A pitch for diplomacy

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Can Pakistan get a home series without other cricketing countries visiting it? Such a ‘fiction’ may be a practical possibility in India, where cricket and politics are closely intertwined and politicians become cricket administrators.

Diplomacy can be and indeed is, quite often, a very tedious business. No country wants to tip its hand unless it is sure of what it can get from the other in return. And, of course, saving face is important above all else. And that means diplomats end up resorting to all manner of ‘what if’ type of convoluted discussions with one another. The expression ‘non-paper’ (an unofficial record of official policy) is perhaps diplomacy’s contribution to the English language.

A former US representative to the United Nations best summed up the situation in a snippet that I recall reading many years ago in the Reader’s Digest. He was asked what it was like negotiating with other diplomats in the UN. His response was quintessentially American in its forthrightness. He said negotiation at the UN was a bit like a boy asking a girl on his first date, “Will you marry me if I ask you?” and the girl, responding after a moment’s reflection: “Will you ask me if I say yes?”

That is, of course, how it is between countries that have reasonably good relations with each other. But when two countries that have had an extended history of mutual suspicion interspersed with years of outright hostility, such as India and Pakistan, nothing is quite what it seems on the surface. Whether it is discussion on the Kashmir dispute or withdrawal of troops from Siachen, they tend to circle around each other without ever getting close enough to an understanding. So much so, you need talks to even have talks!

What’s in the details

In this atmosphere, cricket ties between the two countries can be no exception. If the Pakistani cricket team is visiting India to play a series of matches here, you would think that India is playing host, right? Well, the answer is, ‘Yes’ and may be ‘No’, too. India-Pakistan ties are different from what they appear on the surface. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) isn’t helping matters either. Its announcement made the other day merely said, rather enigmatically, one thought that the details are being worked out.

Now, any half-decent follower of international cricket would know that other than venues and the number of practice matches before the official contest begins, pretty much everything else is standardised. Visiting teams make their own arrangements for stay and travel.

The host nation gets to keep the television revenues and the local organisers the gate collections and in-stadia advertising. Since all tours are organised on a reciprocal basis, it evens out. No nation need feel short-changed as when it comes their turn to play host to any other national team, the revenue flows entirely into their coffers. So, what is there to finalise, is a question you might want to ask.

‘Home series’

The problem is, for Pakistan, it doesn’t quite work out that way. Forget India and its known angst about the Pakistani role (state complicity, or otherwise) in the Mumbai attack. The fact of the matter is, no team simply wants to travel to that country and play a cricket match. Or, at least, as things stand now.

So how does Pakistan get its home series without countries in the cricketing world actually visiting it? Only by creating the fiction that even when it plays a nation in the latter’s territory, it is still declared as a ‘home series’ for Pakistan!

One does not know how this is going to play out with other countries, but with India, where cricket and politics are closely intertwined and politicians become cricket administrators, the arrangement is not outside the realm of practical possibility.

Taxing issues

But there are complications. Not all of them, however, are cricket-related. Indeed, the cricket-related ones are the easiest to handle. For instance, the visiting Pakistani cricket team may well be given the rights to adjust the ground conditions to suit its team strength. So technically then, the pitch and the surrounding area of the ground are given out on a temporary lease to the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Does the Indian law allow it? My guess is, even if it does not explicitly prohibit it, it isn’t actually contemplated under it either.

As anyone familiar with the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) would confirm, the fundamental philosophy behind the legislation is that no transaction involving foreign exchange is permitted under law unless it is explicitly permitted.

As it happens, the RBI rules allow for only foreign nationals — not corporate entities, mind you — to lease immovable property for a term not exceeding five years. A five-day lease of a cricket ground in India by the PCB would have to be specifically allowed.

Ground reality

The BCCI may, of course, wink at an arrangement that envisages the PCB taking charge of the ground without payment of any rent. It is, after all, an association of politicians with cricket being an incidental purpose.

Even Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Chief of the Cricket Association of Bengal, where one of the matches is scheduled to be played, may go along with it, even though he is otherwise not on the best of terms with the ruling establishment of cricket in India. That might still amount to a FEMA violation, for it could be construed as an export of a service without consideration being received in foreign exchange!

If the BCCI and the PCB skirt around the potential FEMA angle, income-tax law may prove to be a more formidable challenge. The BCCI may enjoy tax exemption, but can the same be said about the income earned by PCB as its share of revenue from cricket matches being played in India? Ask Vodafone, as to what it thinks about the tax implications of such an arrangement.

For now, all these issues have been swept under the carpet with the euphemism of ‘‘details being worked out’’. The BCCI must be hoping that, for now, it will be home series for India and that, in time, the two countries may sort out their political differences.

Pakistan may cease to be, simultaneously, a victim of terror (as it describes itself) and a hub of terror (as India sees it). Possible, as indeed pigs may soon sprout wings and horses may learn to fly.

(This article was published on July 22, 2012)
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