Asia

Champions Trophy: Cricket, nationalism and the 'enemy' narrative

A cricket match between India and Pakistan isn't just a sporting event: It can border on the jingoistic. When Pakistan thrashed India in the Champions Trophy final, social media was flooded with nationalistic posts.

London Cricket ICC Champions Trophy Finale Trophäe (Getty Images/G. Copley)

Pakistan's victory over India in Sunday's Champions Trophy in England was a remarkable achievement by a team that was considered an underdog in the tournament. International cricket has been suspended in Pakistan since a failed terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, forcing Pakistan to play its international games in the United Arab Emirates.

Also, the Champions Trophy success was Pakistan's biggest one-day format win since the 1992 World Cup victory. For a country reeling from Islamist violence, an underperforming economy, and an acute energy crisis, the triumph over arch-rivals India in the final of the tournament was a much-needed and well-deserved respite.

But a cricket match between India and Pakistan is not merely a sporting event. Experts say the frenzy around the Indian-Pakistani games sometimes borders on jingoism, with cricket fans in both South Asian nations wanting to prove their superiority over the other.

Something similar may be football matches between Germany and the Netherlands, or Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but despite the furor associated with these games, they are never as "hostile" as Indian-Pakistani cricket matches.

Taunting posts

With the exception of some genuine sports lovers who appreciated the beauty of the game and a fine performance by both teams throughout the tournament, a majority of social media users in Pakistan chose to "ridicule" India. A lot of these posts were in reaction to Indian social media users' pre-game tweets belittling the Pakistani team.

"Winning the Champions Trophy is obviously a joyful moment, but the way Pakistanis reacted to the victory proved that even a sporting event in the country is linked with an Islamic ideology and nationalism," Arshad Mahmood, a secular activist, wrote on Facebook.

"Patriotism doesn't mean that we should hate India. It's a pity that we can't celebrate our success in a civilized way," Mahmood added.

Following Sunday's game, some Pakistani TV channels were at the forefront of "India bashing." TV host Aamir Liaquat Hussain mocked Indian actor Rishi Kapoor on his show for the Bollywood star's tweets about the Pakistani team prior to the final.

Hundreds of posts by Pakistani social media users used Father's Day to taunt India and express their superiority over Indians.

Some feminist users complained about using gender and patriarchal semantics to score points over India.

The Kashmir issue and 'diplomatic isolation'

The country's powerful army promptly congratulated the cricket team for its victory over India, but at the same time reinforced the nationalistic narratives about India, Kashmir and Baluchistan.

Some of the tweets by Major General Asif Ghafoor, the director of the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Public Relations department, even showed people in India-administered Kashmir celebrating Pakistan's victory.

India and Pakistan have fought three full-scale wars over Kashmir, a Himalayan region that both countries claim in entirety but rule in parts.

Many countries in the region accuse Islamabad of supporting Islamist militancy. Experts say this has contributed to Pakistan's international isolation and the desire of some Pakistani media personalities to use the cricket triumph to project Pakistan on the international arena was made evident by a post claiming that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also celebrated Pakistan's win.

On the other side of the border, the social media users criticized their players for losing to Pakistan, with reports of Indian fans breaking their TV sets and angry demonstrations making the headlines.

Sane voices

Cool-headed people in both India and Pakistan urged cricket lovers to enjoy the game and hoped the fantastic final at the Oval ground in London would resume bilateral cricket between India and Pakistan and bring the two nations closer together.

Watch video 01:15

Pakistan thrash India to win Champions Trophy

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