India and Pakistan are at war on the cricket field as political tensions between them rise. Indians and Pakistanis are about to take up bats to destroy one another in a brutal match battling for superiority in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 on June 4.

Cricket Pakistan India ICC Champions Trophy
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Despite sports being sports and politics being politics, the decades-old conflict between Pakistan and India has blurred the line between them. As Pakistanis and Indians prepare to break into a fierce battle at Edgbaston in Birmingham, U.K., tensions between them are already rising in anticipation of the cricket game.

The game is fueling passions in both Pakistan and India. Indian Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Vijay Goel commented that cricket and Pakistan’s alleged ties to terrorism can never go hand in hand. That sparked a massive fire in the two countries that wrestle for Kashmir. Of course the Kashmir dispute has absolutely no relation to sports competitions between the two historic enemies. However, the heated exchange of politics-motivated hostile gestures between the two South Asian nations places any hope for a politics-free cricket game on thin ice.

Cricket could stop the war between India and Pakistan

Pakistanis and Indians will be facing off on the cricket field just days after Mr. Goel’s very controversial speech, which set off waves of anger in Pakistan. The Indian Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs assured Pakistanis that there would never be a bilateral cricket series as long as their nation continues to support terrorism.

The comments came just days before the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 game. They opened the door for an exhausting war of words as citizens of both nations try to prove their country’s superiority on Facebook and Twitter and in the media. But in reality, superiority must be proven on the field. Islamabad and New Delhi fail to see the fine line between politics and sports, which is why the cricket competition between them is being highly politicized.

Instead of using sports as yet another excuse to heighten the already-critical tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, Pakistanis and Indians should embrace the power of sports to unite them and even potentially stop a war. This was the case in 1969 when Brazilian football star Pele allegedly stopped the Nigerian civil war ahead of the 1970 World Cup. The story claims that when Pele toured Africa, Nigeria and Biafra agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire in order to watch him play football.

India refuses to see the fine line between politics and sports

Instead of seeing the unique potential of cricket to bring Islamabad and New Delhi closer, India continues to distance itself from the opportunity to make peace with Pakistan in sports. Pakistan has tried multiple times to get India to stop boycotting sports with it, only to be ignored.

Rising political tensions between the two countries block any possibility for sports ties between them, India argues. New Delhi insists that it will not play a bilateral cricket series with Pakistan as long as its biggest political enemy allegedly continues to sponsor cross-border terrorism.

While India’s attempts to get the international community to punish Pakistan for its alleged sponsorship of terrorism have been futile, New Delhi continues to stall on bilateral cricket, even though many international officials have been urging the two nations to leave politics out of sports. India has refused to play Pakistan in a full bilateral series since 2007 when they played five One-Day Internationals and a one-off Test match.

Since then, plummeting political relations between them and India’s accusations of terrorism sponsorship halted bilateral cricket, resulting in legal trouble for New Delhi.

Destroying sports through politics: India vs. Pakistan standoff

Just recently, the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI) went to the extreme of urging the International Cricket Council (ICC) to not put their country in the same group as Pakistan in global cricket tournaments. The BCCI also failed to implement its part of the deal it signed with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was meant to be an agreement to hold six bilateral series between 2015 and 2023.

India has been in legal trouble over its refusal to implement the bilateral series accord, as Pakistan filed a notice of dispute claiming a reported figure of $60 million in damages in May. PCB chairman Shahryar Khan told the Senate Committee that “India is destroying sports in Pakistan,” adding that India’s withdrawal from the series had cost Pakistan $60 million.

“If we do not get a reply from the BCCI then we will move the Dispute Resolution Committee of International Cricket Council,” Mr. Khan warned.

In addition to withdrawing from the bilateral series planned through 2023, New Delhi also reportedly denied visas to Pakistani national players on several occasions, preventing them from playing games held in India. The legal clash between Islamabad and New Delhi could eventually revive bilateral series between Pakistanis and Indians, but the attitude of the two nations will not just change with a couple of signatures from high-profile figures of the BCCI and PCB.

Mixing politics and sports: playing with fire

The true change – the one that indicates both Pakistan and India have matured enough to differentiate between sports and politics – will come when the people of both nations come to realize the absurdity of mixing politics with sports. When sports and politics collide, it further cements the hatred between them.

If there’s any path for reduced tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, it should start with sports. Blurring lines between sports and politics further fuels tensions between the two nations, which are already on the brink of trying to rip one another into tiny pieces. Politicizing cricket for the sole purpose of destroying the enemy is absurd, and so is thinking that politics-motivated restrictions, boycotts or bans in sports can solve anything.

The India vs. Pakistan ICC Champions Trophy 2017 cricket match will take place on Sunday, June 4 at Birmingham’s Edgbaston.