If there was anybody who needed convincing that the bitter edge in the sporting rivalry between India and Pakistan was restricted to a segment of the fans, the weightlifting arena at the ongoing Commonwealth Games provided another example. Gold medallist in the 109-plus weight category, Muhammad Nooh Dastgir Butt of Pakistan and bronze medallist, India’s Gurdeep Singh, conducted themselves less like arch rivals and more like friends, rather brothers.
They celebrated each other’s success on the podium and off it too, letting their hair down to Sidhu Moosewala songs. That the two have known each other since their formative years, and share a common language and similar culture — from either side of the undivided Punjab of pre-Partition days — played its part. But the Pakistani lifter has also said that he has more admirers in the sporting fraternity in India than in his own country, and his two visits to India have proved that the stories of animosity that populate the prevalent narrative may not be the whole truth. Butt’s father, an acclaimed weightlifter himself, has had similar experiences in India, being accorded love and respect that would be an eye-opener for those who feel competition or hate is the dominant emotion in bilateral sporting ties.
It is a similar story in cricket as well. The picture of Virat Kohli hugging Muhammad Rizwan after a defeat in last year’s T20 World Cup went viral. Babar Azam tweeting words of encouragement as Kohli went through a lean patch was another example. There have been several instances of a player from one country helping out one from across the border, proving that sporting spirit, like art, cannot be restricted to geographical limits. As efforts are made to find common ground to foster better relations between the neighbours, maybe sports could play a bigger role.