Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The biggest sporting event ever?

If at some point in the next 24 hours you notice that Facebook and Twitter are facing major downtime you should point your fingers towards the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Chandigarh, India. The PCA is the venue for one of the biggest sporting events in history, a World Cup semi-final clash between Pakistan and India. I'll do my best to not to make too much of this post about Cricket statistics as most of the people who read this blog regularly are not cricket fans. I just wanted to give you guys somewhat of a background on what is transpiring half way around the world.

The anticipation for this match is extremely high in Pakistan in part because India has won all four meetings between the two over the course of World Cup history.

The Government of Pakistan has announced a half day holiday for Wednesday so people can get home in time to watch the game. 

Cricket just may be getting bigger exposure in the US. ESPN just secured a deal to stream games online as well as show on TV.

While the media and fans on either side of the border hardly ever think or act rationally the players have become far more friendly over the years. Perhaps it is the circumstances that have made that way but the men on both of these rosters serve dual roles as ambassadors of their countries while the two governments are knocking heads. Cricinfo writer Sambit Bal looked back at an incident from 2007 earlier today.
I remember a conversation I had with Younis Khan, then captain of Pakistan, a couple of days after his team had beaten India in a Champions Trophy match in Pretoria in 2009. Younis spoke of chiding a couple of Indian television journalists who'd been chasing him for a quote that would damn MS Dhoni. "Why are you after Dhoni," he asked them. "Winning and losing, it keeps happening. Today it is his turn, tomorrow it could be mine."
The pressure to win is extremely high in both countries. Heads will likely roll in whichever camp comes out short on Wednesday. It is the nature of the beast and all parties involved know this going in. Lets not forget that these two countries have been to war three times, have had many more border skirmishes. Sometimes the fan base tries to equate cricket to war. I can't think of many sports rivalries that are bigger. I've tried to explain to American friends how much more intense this rivalry is compared to pretty much anything in North American sports. Pakistan/India cricket matches make the Yankees/Red Sox, Redskins/Cowboys, Lakers/Celtics, UNC/Duke, etc. seem like minor league stuff. It is a rivalry that goes even deeper then sports. Saad Shafqat of ESPNCricinfo put it to words better then I can at the moment,

Sports ultimately are a form of make-believe, but here we have a sporting rivalry with roots so deep that it is no longer clear which is the genuine conflict and which is the proxy. If you took a survey of Indians and Pakistanis today, they will not be clear whether it is more important to defeat your neighbour in cricket or war. Quite likely, a majority will prefer victory in cricket. To this extent, the goal of any cricket diplomacy has already been achieved.
The hype surrounding this match has been immense but unlike the hyperbole that gets used a lot in sports this match really is that big of a deal. I am as big a sports fan as any and I honestly can't think of a more highly anticipated sporting even in my lifetime. Just how highly anticipated is this match? All hotels within a 25 KM (15.5 miles) radius were sold out a week ago. As this article goes on to mention, tickets are selling for well over face value by scalpers. This part really caught my eye though,

According to the Times of India, space at Chandigarh airport is limited so private jet owners have been asked to arrange for their planes to drop them off, then head off to places like Amritsar or Delhi to park for the day, before returning to pick them up after the match.
Those fans who have to fly commercial airlines should be prepared to pay a huge premium, reported Mint, a business paper. Business-class tickets are sold out, and an economy ticket for the 30-minute flight between Delhi and Chandigarh will cost between Rs 7407 and Rs 10,482 on March 29. A flight to Chandigarh from Delhi on any other day costs about Rs 3200.
They have to turn away jets at the airport!

The Pakistani Prime Minister has accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart to come watch the game and have a meeting before the game. It may end up being a empty gesture in the long run but it is a good step forward.

The Indian government was expected to issue 6,500 visas to Pakistanis wanting to attend the game. Fans have been making their way to the Wagah border all day. Included amongst them is "Chacha Cricket" 
Chacha Cricket arrives in India (© AFP)
Check out this BBC story from back in 2003 about Chacha Cricket. Someone has even launched a website with him where he posts pictures/videos. The Times of India posted a story earlier today about him as well.

You have to check out this border ceremony that happens every single day. It is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The two nations have been at war 3 times and tensions are always high politically but this ceremony at the border draws a crowd from both sides of the border. 

The last time these two teams played at this stadium Pakistan won on the penultimate ball.
I always laugh at people to claim that a billion people watch the Super Bowl. Sure, there are 100 million people in the US who watch it but where are the other 900 million people coming from? A lot of Americans seem to forget that not everyone cares about American sports. Soccer and Cricket are a bigger deal around the world (in terms of audience). This game tomorrow will most likely be watched by well over a billion people. How am I coming up with that number? There are approximately 1.5 billion Pakistanis and Indians around the world. A large majority of those (including me) will be watching this game Wednesday. Add to it people in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Canada and right here in the US and it adds up to a fairly large audience.  Twitter faces several down periods throughout the course of the average day, I am expecting it to face even more troubles Wednesday. So if you're logging in from work in the morning hoping to get on Twitter......sorry! The game starts at 5 AM eastern time and should last until about 12:30 PM. I would expect Twitter issues for far longer then that.

This brings me back to my original question. Will this go down as the most watched sporting event ever?
As always you can leave a comment here, reach me by e-mail or Follow sahyder1 on Twitter.

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