Tag Archives: Asia

Cricket Diplomacy: The U.S. and Pakistan

Pakistan is destabilized, riddled with terrorist elements, and in possession of nukes, and not even the Dems can agree on how those problems should be handled. But perhaps there’s hope in … cricket? Here’s the Times of India on a new U.S.-hosted cricket tournament that begins in October:

Seven Pakistani players – Inzamam ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Imran Farhat, Imran Nazir and Saqlain Mushtaq – are said to have signed up for the new league, which will be held twice a year. In fact, the proposal APL seems to be designed to rescue Pakistani cricketers from international isolation in the face of Indian clout.

This may sound like small potatoes but after losing host status for the 2011 World Cup, Pakistan is looking for any sort of enfranchisement when it comes to the beloved sport of cricket.

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Olympic Bid Update

News from the four finalists angling to host the 2016 Summer Olympics:

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No Cricket for You

Because of grave security concerns, Pakistan will host no World Cup cricket matches in 2011:

International Cricket Council president David Morgan said: “It is a regrettable decision but our priority is to deliver a safe, secure, successful event.”

Pakistan were due to co-host the event with India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Given recent history and the country’s current straits, this seems like a wise and obvious decision. On another level, when India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka come off looking like comparative havens of calm, you have serious security concerns.

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Bassmasters, Take Note

Thanks to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that meddlesome busybody, rank-and-file Afghanis can no longer use hand grenades to catch fish.

As an aside, I can think of nothing that would compel me to watch a televised fishing tournament, but this would come close.

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Thailand, Political Unrest, and Soccer

As you may have heard, things aren’t going so well in Thailand these days. What’s notable is that the man at the center of the upheaval, exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, has strong ties to soccer.

After Thanksin was deposed in a 2006 coup, he regrouped and purchased the Manchester City football club–after previously trying to buy Liverpool and Fulham. The purchase was widely seen as an effort to curry favor back in Thailand:

“This is all public relations. He fears he is losing his political power and he is fighting back,” said Wanchai Rujawongsanti, a sports columnist with the Bangkok Post.

“He wants his job back and he’s using Thailand’s love of football to maintain his high profile here,” he said.

Indeed, Thaksin pumped money into his club and revamped Manchester City’s player-development network. However, after his assets were frozen back in Thailand because of corruption charges, Thaksin was forced to sell the team to a Dubai consortium.

Now, Thaksin is being scrutinized for his role in the violent protests back in his native country. Is he pulling the marionette strings from afar? Considering the bloodshed and economic fallout, Thaksin’s role in the counter-coup will likely have consequences.

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Ahmadinejad’s Soccer Power Play

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, like Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Samardzija, has a surname I will never fail to copy and paste, was hoping a recent World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia would help him curry favor with voters. However, Iran squandered a late lead and lost the home match, 2-1. Ahmadinejad then quickly moved against head coach Ali Daei:

Ahmadinejad had hoped a victory would bring him political capital before the presidential poll in June. The desire to score a propaganda coup even prompted the president’s fans to credit him when Iran took a 1-0 lead. But the euphoria evaporated in the last 12 minutes and Daei’s fate was sealed as a mass mobile phone text to Ahmadinejad’s supporters went out, reading: “Due to the importance of national public opinion to Dr Ahmadinejad, Ali Daei has been forced out.”

Fairly pedestrian stuff for a tyrant, and at least he’s not pulling an Uday on his disgraced footballers. What’s interesting, though, is whether FIFA, which strictly bans political meddling, will suspend Iran for a second time.

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Israel Soccer’s Raw Deal

After a crushing loss to Greece, it’s almost certain that Israel will once again fail to qualify for the World Cup. Israel is by no means a soccer power, but their qualifying road is harder than it should be.

For years, Israel competed within the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because doing so made perfect geographic sense. Israel is, after all, an Asian nation. Eventually, though, Arab states hostile to Israel, starting with Kuwait at the 1974 Asian Games, refused to take the pitch against them. Rather than award forfeit victories to Israel, the AFC capitulated and expelled Israel from Asian football. As a consequence, the Israeli national team was–to borrow the obvious yet fitting metaphor–forced to wander the soccer wilderness for years.

In the 1980s, this led to the absurdity of having Israel compete in the Oceania qualifying group against distant countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Finally, in the early 1990s, Israel became a member of UEFA, which meant toiling against the august European powers of the sport. And those are Israel’s unenviable straits today.

For the 2010 qualifiers, FIFA placed Israel in a group with Greece (FIFA world ranking: 19), Switzerland (22), Latvia (71), Moldova (98), and Luxembourg (121). Had Israel not been exiled from the Asian football circuit–where they logically belong–they’d be presently competing with AFC Group A teams like Australia (ranking: 32), Japan (35), Bahrain (67), Uzbekistan (74), and Qatar (87); or AFC Group B teams like Iran (42), South Korea (44), Saudi Arabia (55), North Korea (107), and UAE (116). Israel, who’s ranked 18th, would’ve had a measurably easier route to the World Cup had they been allowed to compete on their own continent.

If nothing else, the Israeli athletes deserve a fairer shake.

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