Pakistan Stars XI-International XI matches in Karachi a cause for celebration and praise

Just as Matthew Hayden was giving us one reason to look at cricket with fond eyes and a glimmer of excitement found once again, Pakistan and the International XI who have agreed to play there gave us another. By bringing stars such as Ricardo Powell, Sanath Jayasuria and Andre Nel to Karachi for two T20 matches against a Pakistan XI, the Sindh government has shown that terrorism and political machinations can only go so far in quashing the enduring love of the game in that country and amongst its wider constituents. Jayasuria’s presence is especially heartwarming, as it was the Sri Lankan team who were on the receiving end of that heinous attack in 2009 that put an end to international cricket in Pakistan until this weekend. Since then, I completed one and a half years of my university education, received my degree, travelled for seven-odd months and did a full year’s professional work. Such has been the gravity of the length of time in which the people of Pakistan have been starved of cricket, made worse by a country whose electrical shortages mean the national team cannot be followed with any degree of ease during their foreign tours.

Pakistan is probably not safe enough for international cricket to return with a full schedule yet, and while these matches may help, one has to hope that the contingency plans and security blueprints drawn up are of the highest quality. However, balancing such reductive fears is the contention by Arsene Wenger after the Mumbai terror attacks led to calls for England’s cricket team to return home from India that “we cannot let our lives be ruled by fear.” Otherwise, societies and people would never take the bold steps that are behind progress, and in sporting terms, behind staging the kind of spectacles that make a difference in people’s lives. Cricket in Pakistan has suffered countless body blows in recent times and been wracked by internal strife and division; in the face of this, it heartening to see help forthcoming from members of the international cricket community, and also to witness constituents of Pakistan society such as the Sindh government and cricketers themselves unite in service of their country and the sport that has been a source of such passion and positivity there. Here’s hoping the matches pass off safely, generate a great amount of attention from the public and slowly but surely help with the reintegration of Pakistani grounds on the international fixture list. If all goes according to plan, it should be a celebration of cricket as an enduring force of good against the more destructive influences that have sought to cut off its proximity and benefit to the Pakistani people.

Lessons of Hillsborough and Karachi tragedies must be absorbed to prevent further unnecessary loss of life

Remembrance of the Hillsborough tragedy has been forefront in everyone’s minds over the past week, and its lessons stretch well beyond the boundaries of British sport. It was as shocking to read about how 96 innocent football fans were asphyxiated to death in a section of the stadium amounting to a death trap, as it was to hear that 264 Pakistani workers were trapped by metal grilles and a lack of safety exits while a factory fire raged around them and they were burnt alive. In Britain, the Hillsborough tragedy ensured that safety standards were upped, while the silver lining in the cloud of revelations that came to the fore last week lay in the ability of its citizens to hold the government accountable and thereby bring about changes that could save lives. In Pakistan, what guarantee that the recent factory fires in Karachi and Lahore will result in honourable resignations and an urgency to correct antiquated structures that imperil people in such ghastly fashion?

As far as sport is concerned, it is always notable how cricket in the subcontinent is played before a fanatical following, who turn out in overwhelming numbers for T20 and one-day internationals and whose pens are delineated in the stadium by strong grilles in the front and to both sides. It would be a surprise to any Pakistani if the safety officials inside the stadium were aware of how many people each pen could take before the risk of a human crush like the one that happened at Hillsborough became a reality, or if they had measures in place to check the number of people in each pen at any given time. Similarly, there is little faith that safety stewards would know how to effectively stagger the number of people entering any pen in the stadium by standing at the entry tunnels, which was a key failing of the police at Hillsborough that resulted in fatal overcrowding.

The intersection of the Hillsborough report with the fatal fire in Karachi places fresh impetus on the Pakistan government to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again. As far as sport is concerned, it falls to the Pakistan Cricket Board to order a review of safety at all major cricket grounds so that one of the few instances in which people turn out en masse in that country can never be subject to the sort of irreversibly sad disaster that befell Hillsborough. India, too, has a track record of getting up to speed on sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Indian Grand Prix in the most shabby and delayed fashion possible, and would do well to check back and ensure that no potentially fatal shortcuts were taken in the construction of stadiums, stands and terraces.