The World Cup’s biggest game will have an 85-point “code of conduct” for spectators – one that specifically bars religious messages – at the Adelaide Oval when defending champions India play Pakistan on February 15.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has banned posters or banners with political or religious messages in the stadium for the Group B clash. These are among a long list, perhaps the longest ever in the game, of dos and don’ts that the organisers have drawn up for the fans to avoid trouble.
It is a well-known fact that India-Pakistan matches are one of the biggest and are high-voltage affairs wherever they are played, even in non-cricketing countries like Canada and the UAE.
Over the years, relations between India and Pakistan have affected the game, and there have been phases where bilateral series have been discontinued due to cross-border tension.
In a recent incident, Pakistan hockey players had left Indian fans fuming after making objectionable gestures during the Champions Trophy semi-final in Bhubaneswar, although the tournament was allowed to run its course.
Both Australia and New Zealand have a sizeable immigrant population from India and Pakistan.
The Adelaide Oval stadium management authority (AOSMA) is preparing for any possible riot, clash or terror attack.
Other than the Waca at Perth, where India will play the UAE, none of the five World Cup venues in Australia have such extensive instructions. The majority of the UAE team is made up of Pakistani-origin players.
Australia is yet to recover from an attack after a gunman held hostages at a mall in Sydney, and the country doesn’t want a shadow to be cast over one of the country’s most-loved sport.
The Adelaide Oval dossier specifically states that “24-hour closed-circuit television surveillance operates throughout the Oval”, and that patrons (read fans) may be filmed, photographed or otherwise recorded.
The AOSMA has also warned people from giving away political, religious, advertising or promotional material without prior consent of the authority.
The special measures also gives AOSMA the prerogative to close the gates regardless of whether or not all ticket holders entitled to admission have gained entry.
It also says that to report bad behaviour during games, fans can text the security on ‘0400 TELL US’. They’ve also given an email address.
Recent events worldwide, including some on the sporting field, may have forced them to take these drastic measures.
Cricket matches have been disrupted or stalled like the Asian Championship Test at Eden Gardens in 1999 or the Karachi ODI in 1989 when India toured Pakistan.
The crowd too has been uncharitable towards the players, chanting slogans that infuriated the latter.
In fact, the India-Pakistan match at the 1992 World Cup in Sydney caught commentators by surprise. While India and Pakistan flags were there, Khalistan flags also made an appearance.
Peter Roebuck, who was commentating on radio, turned to Harsha Bhogle and asked him about it. Bhogle feigned ignorance, later saying that since the feed was being picked up by All India Radio (AIR), it may have caused problems.
Bhogle later explained: “Had I told him what it was, he’d have then asked me what Khalistan was and the conversation could have gone on and on.”
Recently, sports arenas have seen their share of “political activity”.
In July, Moeen Ali of England wore “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands during a Test between India and England. While England cricket board allowed the batsman to wear the bands, the ICC launched an investigation.
Ali’s support was in response to Israel’s Gaza offensive.
At last year’s football World Cup, Argentinean squad raised eyebrows when it held up a banner that read “Falkland Islands belong to Argentina”. The South American country and the UK have a long-running dispute over the South Atlantic Ocean archipelago.
The World Cup begins on February 14. Fourteen teams split in two groups will fight it out for the game’s biggest prize.