“The one place I never expected to see you or the United Nations,’’ a friend wisecracked the other day, ‘‘was in the sports pages. Who could have imagined you or the UN in the cricket news?’’

He was only half unfair. I must admit that my very own presence in the sports pages is astonishing. My passion for cricket is only rivaled by my incompetence at it. Ever since my schooldays I wanted to play cricket very badly — and that’s exactly what I did: I played cricket very badly. To make matters worse, graduate studies in the United States and a career in United Nations have meant that I have spent the last quarter century in countries where no serious cricket is played. The odds against my figuring in the sports pages are long indeed.

But that’s not quite as true about the United Nations. Our thinking at the UN is simple. The Charter of the United Nations begins with the words ‘‘We the Peoples.’’ Yet all too often the world body has functioned as if it actually read ‘‘We the Governments’’. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sought to bring the UN back to the people. One way of doing so is to get the message of the UN across to those who don’t normally think about world affairs — those, for instance, who focus on the sports pages than the foreign news. This is why the basketball legend Magic Johnson has been baptised a United Nations ‘‘Messenger of Peace’’ by the Secretary-General and has spoken out on our behalf against drug abuse and for the world’s combat against AIDS.

And why soccer legend Pele could be seen kicking a football with a group of underprivileged children on the United Nations lawns in New York. Or indeed why, to descend to what the French call actualite, the TV crews focusing on the Iinternational Cricket Council (ICC) chief Jagmohan Dalmia at the fifth one-day international at New Zealand caught me immersed in conversation with the world’s top cricket official, much to the mystification of the commentators, who wondered who on earth I was. The mystery of my identity and the purpose was resolved soon enough, at a well-attended press conference convened by the UN and the ICC.
Cricket can clearly be a valuable force for the promotion of values and principles for which the UN stands. Cricket and the UN are both identified with opposition to racism; both feature people with different ethnicities, colours, religions and creeds striving towards the same goals. Cricket is a sport which embodies the values of international co-existence transcending political differences — a key United Nations principle.

The slogan ‘‘cricket for peace’’ was coined in the subcontinent when General Zia-ul-Haq’s visit to India to watch a Test match against Pakistan helped defuse tensions between the two countries. Cricket is also dedicated to the notion of ‘‘playing by the rules’’; strict adherence to the laws of cricket includes honouring the spirit of those laws, so that, for instance, the mildest show of dissent against an umpiring decision is severely sanctioned. The phrase ‘‘it is not cricket’’ has come to be used whenever any conduct is palpably unfair, or — to recall a deplorably sexist but irreplaceable word — ‘‘ungentlemanly.’’ All this strikes an obvious chord for the UN, which is seeking to promote the rule of law around the world.

The ICC, for its part, is increasingly promoting the ‘‘globalisation of cricket.’’ Cricket’s governing body has 56 members — nine test playing countries, 27 associate members and 20 affiliate members (though one of the test teams, the West Indies is not in fact a ‘‘country’’ but a cricket aggregation of 18 countries). The United Nations has 188 members and offices in over two-thirds of them, responsible for a variety of developmental, humanitarian and anti-drug projects, among others. The ICC’s global outreach programme will take cricket to countries where the UN is well established; one can easily imagine a cricket star promoting his sport while simultaneously drawing attention to say the UN’s work in the same country (‘‘Poverty in Ghana — It’s Not Cricket!’’) Cricket is a natural partner in the UN’s effort to create an international ‘‘culture of peace’’. The work of the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) includes the ‘‘right of a child to play,’’ a theme that recalls both cricket’s development initiatives and the tenth anniversary on the conventions on the rights of a child.

Mr Dalmiya announced the ICC’s launch of an annual programme called the ‘‘cricket week’’ around the world each year, starting on April 2 to 9, 2000. During cricket week the ICC will conduct various activities to promote cricket. In our joint press conference announcing the meeting of minds between our two organisations, Mr Dalmiya mentioned his intention to have Indian and Pakistani cricketers play under the same banner during cricket week. This was converted by one hyper-imaginative journalist into a UN scheme to merge India’s and Pakistan’s cricket teams under the UN flag. Alas, the UN has nothing to do with this. Despite whatever fantasies some UN officials might have along those lines, the UN has no such plans. It is for the ICC alone to manage world cricket, and if Mr Dalmiya does create an ‘‘Asian XI’’ for a one-day match against the Rest of the World during Cricket Week, many of us at the UN will applaud from the grandstands — but that is as close as the UN will get to any such initiative.

But do not be surprised if you see, between televised overs, the face of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlining his vision for the millennium, or a short UN ‘‘spot’’ on abolishing poverty: the ICC has offered us the TV slots to help project our message. And who knows — you might even see the UN flag flying in the breeze at the next World Cup.

Source: Indian Express