Jamie Corringan: Britain's boo-boys should tune into India v Pakistan for real sporting rivalry

Maybe the sociologists are right, perhaps in an anodyne society the need to be tribal and tovent one's frustration is understandable. Sounds a pile of tripe to me

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:37

Among all the positives for the Welsh to take from Saturday's defeat, one stood out for the ignorant onlooker. Courtenay Hamilton belts out a cracking anthem.

Indeed, as Gary Speed assesses the scale of the development process required finally to drag the Dragons into the post-Giggs, soon-to-be post-Bellamy era he can content himself with the knowledge that apart from Bale and Ramsey there is a ready-made replacement for Katherine Jenkins.

If only we had been able to hear Miss Wales. Those of us in attendance had to wait until we returned home to appreciate fully her angelic tones. Inside the stadium, boos chorused all over first "God Save The Queen" and then "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau". What an edifying spectacle it was and how warming a little later in a Cardiff hostelry to listen to a Welshman praising the visiting contingent. "You gotta hand it to the English," he said, "there was only 8,000 of them, but from where I was I could hardly hear the 'Gwlad, Gwlads'."

This is where football is right now, where it has forever been if the veterans are to be believed. Adults take children to a match in the supposed guise of cheering on their boys and end up flicking the middle finger both verbally and visually. And so the irrational antagonism passes from one generation to the next, for both club and country. In one British city they snigger at the songs of an air disaster, in another they chant of a religious divide very few understand. It is by now so ingrained the authorities don't really bother to attempt any meaningful reform. Containment is their attitude. No fighting, no problem.

It's not only football and it's not only fans. In rugby union, that supposed game of the gentleman, a coach and a player openly used pronounced descriptions of enmity in relation to England. Maybe, the English should look at themselves, maybe they shouldn't. Yet apart from a crass motivational tool that the experts insist has no genuine place in the cold and calculating world of professional sport, what is it all for? Well, maybe the sociologists are right, perhaps in an anodyne society the need to be tribal and to vent one's frustration is understandable. Sounds a pile of tripe to me.

Whatever, football as the prime-time sport can only be classed as a positive force in Britain in terms of physical health. Otherwise it's mental. "Serious sporting rivalries" are sometimes so hyped that the culture of hatred is actually celebrated in the positive usage of the terms "hostile" and "intimidating".

If you want to see a proper "serious rivalry" look no further than the cricket World Cup semi-final on Wednesday. India versus Pakistan should cut through the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, smirk, smirk" bar-room custom because there is something at stake in this encounter, something way bigger than a place in the final. Sport's much-vaunted powers of alliance may not be so mythical after all.

Ostensibly the mood in Mohali has seemed much like any host town in a frenetic build-up these past few days. A shopkeeper is being dragged to the courts for selling £3 tickets at £700 a pair, while officials have been accused of operating on a hectic black market. Yet in the background the tensions bubble along with the possibilities. Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, has accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to join him at the match and afterwards talks concerning "bilateral matters" will take place.

They call it "cricket diplomacy" and although it has previously proved unsuccessful, with the current thawing of relations much hope has been expressed by commentators in both countries. Below this wave of optimism inevitably lies the undercurrent of danger. In a Karachi court a petition has been lodged seeking to move the game to a third country because of fears for the Pakistan team's safety should they win. In response, a right-wing Hindu party deny they have made threats against the visiting team. It simply highlights that the hope is mirrored by the foreboding.

It is why the semi-final will make required viewing, required reading, required revisiting in six months' time. Forget the Olympics and all that baloney about bringing people together. That extravaganza brings only the athletes, media and day-trippers together. Here is a sporting occasion with the potential to pacify or further divide. Pakistan have not played in India for almost four years and the history of the fixture neatly plots the history of the conflict since the separation in 1947.

Nobody expressed the importance better than Ajaz Ul Haq, a columnist on the Greater Kashmir, an independent newspaper printed in the heart of the area at the centre of the conflict. "It's not a mere game," he wrote. "It entails a lot more than we see in the stadium. The moment can be intelligently converted into an opportunity to bring the two nations closer. If politics creates divisions, let sports kill the distance."

Such a passage would sound naff if it was ever written about a sporting occasion in Britain. Should we give thanks for that truth, or regret? Perhaps a bit of both.

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