End of cricket euphoria in Pakistan


By Farooq Tariq

LAHORE — The defeat of the Pakistani cricket team by Australia in the final match of the World Cup has dashed many hopes of the government. The ruling conservative Muslim League government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had hoped to gain political benefit from the expected victory at Lords in London.

A lot of effort was made to show the cricket matches at government expense. All the big parks had massive TV screens. So had all the hotels, with special offers. During the last three months, Nawaz Sharif himself played cricket every Sunday at a Lahore ground. In most matches, he made at least a century, There were stories that it was all "organised".

The ruling class and big business used the World Cup to gain profits from all angles. Pakistan has only two TV channels; both showed the entire cricket matches during at peak hours.

All the multinationals and their agents launched a massive advertising campaign as a World Cup special. Most products had some sort of prize with reference to the Cup.

Many had quiz competitions with offers to send the winners to London. Going to London to watch the cricket would solve all the social and economic problems of the masses, was the unspoken message. Pepsi, even in working-class districts, had a record sale. To drink a Pepsi or any soft drink is a special treat in normal circumstances.

From shoe polish company Kiwi to shaving product company Gillette, all utilised the World Cup to enhance sales. If you polish your shoes with Kiwi, Pakistan will have a better chance of winning, and if you shave with a Gillette razor, you would definitely win.

Nestle, Colgate, Lipton, Walls ice cream, Philips, Candia, all had some special technique in their product for the victory of Pakistan. These companies experienced a massive boost in sales of their products. All the main papers also shared in the profits through front-page colour advertising from these companies and from the government.

A savage federal budget announced on June 13 went through without much opposition from the trade unions or the masses under the noise of the World Cup. The expected pay rise was not announced, and the government was quite happy about the euphoria created by the game.

These companies and the government had no real interest in promoting the games of cricket. Not a single new cricket ground has been built where working class youth could try this most popular game, while billions of rupees have been spent on advertisements. The narrow streets in the major cities are full of youths playing cricket in dangerous conditions without any wickets or proper bats.

There is little chance for any working class youth to be on the national team. If they do make it to the top, they are trained to become rich in a very short period. In most cases, they leave their working-class localities to live in the bourgeois area. National team cricketers like Imran Khan become politicians promoting the politics of the rich.

A Labour Party Pakistan member, Khalid Mehmood, tells about a working-class youth, his neighbour, Abdul Rezaq, who is currently a member of the national cricket team. "When he went on the first foreign tour three years ago as junior cricket team member, he bought his first motor cycle. On the second trip, he bought his first 800cc small Suzuki car, On the following tour, he changed his Suzuki for a 1000cc car. Now when he has gone to the World Cup, all my friend are expecting that he will move out from this area to live in a posh area and will have at least a Honda Accord."

There have been widespread allegations of gambling against some members of the national team, including captain Waseem Akram. A Lahore High Court inquiry was postponed because of the World Cup. If Pakistan had won the World Cup, this inquiry would have been stopped. Now the team has lost, so the inquiry will be the first item they face when they come back home.

The day following the World Cup, the newspapers were full of stories of mass anger against the players. Demonstrations have taken place in front of the house of Waseem Akram. Some have demanded that the players be sent to Kashmir to fight the war with India as a punishment. Demands have been made to freeze the bank accounts of the players.

The defeat of the Pakistani team is a big blow to the strategies of the government. The cricket euphoria will end overnight.

The present wave of disappointment could have been channelled into a real movement, had there been a mass workers party in Pakistan. One aspect of this whole episode is clear: sports under capitalism are just a business. And all the techniques of extracting maximum profit are used in this business.