Keep thawing

Government’s assurance to IOC on visas to athletes from other countries is enormously welcome.

In assuring the international sports fraternity that India will not discriminate against athletes from any country (read Pakistan), the government dug into the Upanishad and fished out the phrase that has been used in the past to promote tourism. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. “The world is one family”, wrote the sports ministry in a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, to underline “India’s world view”. In the last few months, India refused visas to Pakistani athletes to compete in international tournaments held in the country, which forced the IOC to suspend India’s hosting rights for global events.

The government guaranteed to the IOC they will hereon grant visas to athletes from all countries “without any prejudice to our principled positions and policies on other political matters.” This is a welcome step. The participation of Pakistani teams is always an edgy issue whenever India hosts an international event. In February, when Pakistani shooters weren’t granted visas for the World Cup in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks, the IOC — which saw India as a repeat offender — decided to crack the whip. At least five tournaments scheduled to be held in the country were affected because of the world body’s decision. The government’s new pragmatic stand will make it easier for India to bid for, and host, international tournaments, including qualifying events for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. It will also pave the way for India to bid for big-ticket events like the 2026 Youth Olympics, 2030 Asian Games and 2032 Olympics.

This positive development throws up the more complicated question: Will the government now allow cricket teams from Pakistan to compete in India? Cricket, historically, has been the real indicator of the degree of thaw between the two countries. The BCCI has already sought the Centre’s permission to host Pakistan women’s team for a bilateral series this year. Since the government insists that international players will be allowed in India “without any prejudice to our principled positions”, does it mean that the Pakistan cricketer, too, will be crossing the Wagah border very soon?

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