Indian-Pakistan Friendship Blooms Amid Games Chaos

By Amlan Chakraborty for Reuters

India has received support from an unlikely source as it races to finish preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi which start are due to start Sunday.

Following recent concerns about unhygienic athlete accommodation, security and an epidemic of Dengue Fever, in part blamed on stagnant water around unfinished construction sites, sports administrators in neighboring Pakistan are unwavering in their support for the troubled Games.

“When you host something like this, there will be issues but I’m confident it will be a success,” Lal Chand, Pakistan’s deputy chef-de-mission told Reuters by phone.

“We always had very good relation with the Indian Olympic Association and supported them. We will be arriving in full force to spread the message of peace and goodwill,” he said.

Politically, relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought three wars, were frozen when Pakistan-based militants attacked the Indian City of Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

However that has not appeared to be the case for sport and Games Organizing committee chief Suresh Kalmadi earlier this year thanked Pakistan for supporting India’s bid to host the October 3-14 event.

“Pakistan supported us to the hilt to get the Commonwealth Games to India. We can never forget their support,” Kalmadi had said in June.

‘TWO-WAY BATTLE’

“We and Canada were locked in a two-way battle for getting the hosting rights and Pakistan supported us in our bid.”

Even when complaints about dirty and unhygienic facilities at the Games Village was drawing flak from all corners, Pakistan hockey player Rehan Butt came out in support for the organisers.

“…I feel that the issue is blown out of proportion in this case. There were problems during the Manchester Games (in 2002) as well where we stayed in a university hostel,” Butt was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

“That was the worst experience but we did not complain. We, India and Pakistan, never do that.”

Sports historian Boria Majumdar provided a perspective on what brings the bitter neighbors closer in sport.

“I’m not surprised, after all India and Pakistan have inherited the same culture. Historically, they have always put up a united stand in international sport,” said Majumdar.

“Even when politicians were at loggerheads, sports bridged the gap,” he said.

In 1987, then Pakistan President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq visited India for a cricket match, using the trip to help defuse tensions between the neighbors over a massive Indian military exercise held near the border just months before. The same year, the two countries jointly hosted the cricket World Cup.

The tennis duo of Rohan Bopanna from India and his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul Qureshi were U.S. Open men’s doubles finalists earlier this month.

India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna has invited his Pakistani counterpart to watch the Commonwealth Games, and said he hoped it could also give them a chance to move on their peace dialogue.

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