Brexit v ICC World Cup: Which Britain Will Prevail?

An Indian newspaper headline recently read “World Cup 2019: Cricket Sunshine breaks through Brexit Clouds”. The article says that “the World Cup is happening at an extraordinary time. The Empire is trying to define what it means to be English. At the same time, it’s the outsiders who are shouldering the nation, cleaning it – and also consuming its sport”.

As an observer from the outside, I tend to agree with the sentiment. Cricket is after all, the quintessential English sport, the gentleman’s game, the best known and most accepted British export around the world, from the days of the Empire to the 21st century. It has changed over the years, sometimes unrecognizably so, but at heart it remains about team spirit, honour and pride and the gentleman’s word. Some would argue that golf has overtaken cricket in its global appeal, but that is beside the point. Cricket enjoys viewership in the billions, has fan followings in hundreds of thousands and is a religion in some countries, such as India and perhaps in the entire subcontinent.

Cricket, then, is a democratic sport. The ICC World Cup couldn’t have come to England and Wales, at a more opportune time. It will provide millions relief from the anxieties of Brexit, it will perhaps open their eyes to the good aspects of globalization, and bring home multiculturalism in ways that Britain ought to know best, if it weren’t for the politicians. Three years of agonising Brexit negotiations have left Britons exhausted and there’s nothing like a game of cricket to lift one’s spirits. Take a look at the images above of the People’s Vote March against Brexit in London in March 2019 and cricket fans celebrating on The Mall in London, just a couple of months later. The change of mood is quite apparent. Even the weather gods have been on Britons’ side, as there were no rain interruptions in the first few days, only glorious sunshine. Hopefully the summer of 2019 will not be one of discontent, should England win the World Cup. What’s not to like about it?

Theresa May too took a breather from Brexit (you could say she is going to have a long one, now that she is stepping aside) to cheer for the English side in the opening match against South Africa. If only Brexiteers could take a leaf out of the cricket playbook and see that in the match between nativism and “Britain-First” kind of ideology and multiculturalism and globalization, there are no winners in Britain, only losers. And loss on an epic and monumental scale awaits Britain, as I had forewarned in an earlier post on Brexit, if some of its citizens – spurred on by its misguided politicians – continue to think in this small-minded fashion.

Where cricket is expansive, Brexit is nativist. Where cricket is about honouring one’s commitments, Brexit is about running away from them. Where cricket is about the team and country and flag, Brexit is about I, me, mine, especially for the politicians. Where cricket is about playing by the rules, Brexit is quitting the game because one disagrees with the rules! In trying to achieve the aspirations of the British people as reflected in the (wrong-headed) referendum, Britain would be wrong to want to both leave the European Union and at the same time keep the best parts of staying in the Union for itself.

Captains, Eoin Morgan and Virat Kohli at the ICC World Cup 2019 Opening Party; Image courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup website

What’s worse, is that as Britons enjoy their cricket and push Brexit troubles temporarily to the back of their minds, President Trump comes visiting! As I had also written in an earlier post, Britain risks getting into a tighter embrace with its neighbor across the pond, the United States of America, which itself is on a self-destructive path under Trump’s leadership. In fact, it is no secret that hard-line Brexiteers campaigned for and supported Trump during his election campaign in 2016, the same time as he was supporting the Leave camp in the Brexit referendum. They belong to the same tribe; I use that word because they believe only in tribalism. They espouse the same, xenophobic, anti-immigration, racist and bigoted view of the world. In contrast, look at the world of cricket and you’ll find several examples of foreign players in many teams. In fact, the Indian Premier League which has grown hugely in popularity in recent years in India is the finest example of internationalism, attracting the best talent from around the world while also holding immense promise for new and aspiring young players wishing to grow their careers.

Brexiteers and leaders like Trump, Orban, Salvini, to name a few, have no real answers to the problems of the globalized world in the 21st century, except to withdraw from the field, shrink from their duties and obligations, contract the sphere of influence and activity to what they can comfortably manage. Trump’s preference for only bilateral discussions and agreements is an example of his inability to deal with multi-polar, multi-lateral issues facing the world today. Bilateral deals also allow leaders like him to employ bullying tactics and strongman measures, like raising trade tariffs on one’s biggest trading partners such as China and Mexico. It is a “cut your nose to spite your face” kind of attitude that hardly reflects the concerns of millions of citizens and their families.

The truly international world of cricket: team captains together with the grand prize; Image courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup website

On the other hand, like the breath of fresh air that the Cricket World Cup 2019 is at a time like this, Britain has the option of staying in the European Union of 28 nations who share common interests and vision of the future, even as they try to navigate the challenges together. Encouraged by the spectacular victory of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the European elections, there is already a raft of demands and conditions that are being readied by the US administration for a trade deal with Britain; no doubt, Trump senses an opportunity for some bullying and arm-twisting here, as Britain contemplates leaving the EU. News reports mention that even Britain’s NHS (which is otherwise scoffed at by Americans) could be up for negotiations, as America seeks greater access to it. Trump has also waded into the Brexit debate, even going to the extent of supporting the idea of a No-deal Brexit and saying that he would never pay the £39 billion divorce bill being imposed by the EU.

It will not be an understatement to say that Britain will be swamped by its larger, more powerful neighbour, across the Atlantic. It will become a pawn in the larger game of chess that the US is playing with the great powers of Russia and China. I had said that unmoored from the EU, Britain will drift into oblivion, too small and powerless to resist any challenges that come its way and too weak and diminished to make its contribution and presence felt on the international stage. Whereas Britain within the EU is akin to operating within a league of international teams, under a rules-based system, with umpires and match referees. Sure, there are new challenges in the 21st century and many of those require reforms and changes within the EU, but cricket too has changed over decades reflecting the tastes and aspirations of players, fans and cricketing authorities.

The need of the hour then is for Britain to assess its future carefully. To see how it can stay within the EU and still effect changes along with 27 other partner countries. After all, there are other countries too, where populist right-wing parties have made progress in this EU election and they will be expecting to initiate some reforms. It would be economical suicide to walk away from the EU, when as much as 43% of Britain’s exports goes to the common market.

May the best team win! South Africa v Bangladesh at The Oval; Image courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup website

It is said that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, but the path to Brexit is only strewn with pitfalls and nerve-wracking uncertainty for businesses who cannot plan current levels of production, let alone expansion and new investment. As cricket fans soak in the atmosphere of the world’s biggest cricketing event, here’s hoping Britain’s politicians will think long and hard about the perilous place that they have driven their country to.

Cliff-hanger, precipice… all those expressions are hackneyed now. I’ll stay with cricket language, and hope that no matter what kind of nail-biting finish it turns out to be in this Britons v Brexit politicians match, may the Britons win. The most sensible way to settle this debate seems to be a fresh general election in Britain. And just as nothing is decided in cricket until the last ball is bowled, nothing should be taken for granted on Brexit until the last vote is cast.

Because anything else just wouldn’t be cricket.       

Image of the People’s Vote March against Brexit in the slideshow is by John Lubbock CC by SA 2.0 on Wikimedia Commons. Image of fans celebrating on The Mall is courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup website.

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