2024February 2024Sports Business and CultureSportsCulture

Pakistani Politicians and the Games They Play: The Role of Cricket in Pakistan’s Election

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Ashley Joann Yomtob
Staff Writer

Pakistani political tensions have reached an all-time high after years of internal turmoil. However, a new controversial component to the nation’s electoral woes is at the heart of its current political dysfunction: cricket, the nation’s most beloved sport. To better understand the issue as it stands today, it is important to dissect the role of cricket in Pakistani society overall. Cricket is by far the most popular sport in Pakistan and has “totally eclipsed other sports, even ones Pakistan excelled at.” according to the Associated Press

The initial controversy that pertains to the nation’s recent election began in March 2022, when the country appeared to maintain neutrality regarding the ongoing military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The Intercept reports that on March 7, 2022, officials from the U.S. State Department met with representatives from the Pakistani government, asking for the removal of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Intercept further explains that “The diplomatic meeting came two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which launched as Khan was en route to Moscow, a visit that infuriated Washington.” Al Jazeera elaborates on the current situation, noting Khan’s arrest that followed his publication of a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States in 2022. 

Khan and his former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both prominent leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, have been jailed for ten years for allegedly exposing state secrets. According to Reuters, Khan “has been fighting dozens of cases since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in 2022. He was sentenced to three years in jail in a corruption case in August, which has ruled him out of the February 8 general elections.” However, Reuters also reported that in public opinion polls, Khan was a highly regarded and beloved leader, and his arrest summoned national unrest amidst an economic crisis. 

Among what seems like constant accusations of political corruption, PTI is now battling a new wave of roadblocks in the upcoming election. France24 explains that the party’s campaign avenues have been greatly restricted and barred from television airwaves. It was also reported that “Pakistani internet freedom watchdog Bytes 4 All recorded four hours-long social media shutdowns in January that cut off access to TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube while Khan’s PTI live-streamed to its supporters.” However, the blackouts were deemed to be “technical difficulties.” The party has also released reports of its website being blocked, and fake phishing schemes appear to be taking its place. Moreover, the symbol of PTI is also in jeopardy as VOA News reports that the Pakistan Supreme Court has upheld a decision from the electoral commission that prohibits the party from using the iconic black bat cricket symbol to identify its candidates. 

Khan has been coined a “cricket hero turned prime minister,” and the party has attempted to use the legacy of its founder to build a strong image for itself. Part of Imran Khan’s popularity stems from the fact that he was the former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team when they won their only World Cup in 1992. VOA News also noted, “Election symbols are essential to campaign tools to identify candidates on ballot papers in the nation of about 241 million people, where most constituencies are in rural areas with low adult literacy rates.” 

This new limitation will undoubtedly hinder the party’s labored efforts. The Associated Press explained that in August 2023, the Pakistan Cricket Board excluded the former World Cup champion and prime minister from a video released in honor of the nation’s Independence Day, further politicizing the sport. It was noted that “to show Pakistan’s cricketing achievements, stars such as Akram, Javed Miandad, and Salim Malik were seen celebrating the 1992 World Cup win. Khan, who led the team to the title by beating England in the final, was left out, however.” Many regard cricket as a critical shared love in Pakistan. However, its role in the nation’s current political woes is causing trouble both on and off the field. The election results remain unclear, and reports from Al Jazeera note that analysts are predicting civil unrest and a military

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