Friday, 1 April 2011

India and Pakistan’s Cricket Diplomacy

Sports have long been viewed as a way to overcome differences and foster good relationships among countries (Naess-Holm, 2007:4). During the Cold War, the United States and China engaged in so-called “ping-pong diplomacy” via the exchange of ping-pong players as a means of overcoming animosities (Naess-Holm, 2007:30). Now, last week, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, spontaneously invited his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani to India to watch this week’s cricket semi-final between India and Pakistan (Yardley, 2011).

It is not new that India and Pakistan have attempted to engage in “cricket diplomacy”. Both in 1987 and in 2005 the countries’ respective leaders met over a cricket match (Yardley, 2011). Such meetings are thought to be very important for building confidence among the two countries, who have fought three wars since 1947, are both nuclear powers, and continue to argue about a number of issues, especially the region of Kashmir (Croft, 2005:1041). Diplomatic efforts to negotiate about these issues have continuously come to a halt because of strong disagreements oras a result of terrorist attacks, most recently the 2008 Mumbai attacks, after which relations were frozen (The Times of India, 2011).

This year India and Pakistan decided to re-establish relations and continue the dialogue about peace and security in the region. Early this week, the countries’ home secretaries met to discuss various problems (Shah Singh, 2011). On top of this, the last-minute invitation issued by Mr. Singh, was seen as a gesture of good will towards Pakistan. The prime ministers watched the game together and held talks afterwards (Barman, 2011).

There is some criticism to this: some argue that Mr. Singh simply wanted to distract from the corruption charges against his government, while others point out that Mr. Gilani is really not very powerful in Pakistan and cannot make any important deals. Further, past cricket diplomacy efforts might have been hailed a success at the time of the meeting, but relations deteriorated soon afterwards (Yardley, 2011).

Nonetheless, cricket is a sport loved dearly by both Indians and Pakistanis and it provides an ideal platform to re-build relations on the basis of a common interest. Meeting for a few hours over cricket will certainly not solve the dispute over Kashmir or the question of arresting those responsible for the 2008 attacks, but it can help the leaders build trust by non-political means. This trust, as well as the ability to communicate (be it over political issues or cricket) will be the most important factor for India and Pakistan to come to any agreement in the future.

Watch this debate on the invitation issued by Mr. Singh – it includes some interesting arguments by both sides, but at the same time demonstrates how easy tensions between the two countries rise (as the experts end up fighting over politics).


- Barman, Abheek (2011) “Cricket Diplomacy: India, Pakistan make significant gains at Mohali“, The Economic Times, 31st March,, accessed: 31.3.2011, 11:05

- Croft, Stuart (2005) “South Asia’s Arms Control Process: Cricket Diplomacy and the Composite Dialogue“, International Affairs, Vol.81, No.5, pp.1039-1060

- Naess-Holm, Arne (2007) “Batting for Peace: A Study of Cricket Diplomacy Between India and Pakistan”, Master’s Thesis for Peace and Conflict Studies, Oslo University,, accessed: 31.3.2011, 11:20

- Shah Singh, Harmeet (2011) “India, Pakistan in Talks Ahead of Cricket-Diplomacy Summit”, CNN, 28th March,, accessed: 31.3.2011, 11:04

- The Times of India (2011) “’Cricket Diplomacy’ as India Beat Pakistan”, 31st March,, accessed: 31.3.2011, 23:28

- Yardley, Jim (2011) “Cricket Offers Chance for India-Pakistan Diplomacy”, The New York Times, 29th March,, accessed: 31.3.2011, 11:04


  1. Cricket diplomacy is at the top of the public diplomacy game. Can't get better "hearts" and minds than this. Might be worth a look at and a consideration of how Imran Khan has moved from cricketing hero to politician. Cricket soap opera's also being broadcast across Pakistan....what better incentive is there for combating terrorism in Pakistan than to return to a position where the international game can be hosted in country!

  2. Thank you Caroline, I will have a look at the link. Sports are a great way to bridge differences and unite people - so yes, hopefully also to unite them against terrorism.