What does it take to fly an aircraft over the Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, with a banner trailing in the sky? £600 and, of course, a message to share with the world. In the last two World Cup games at the Yorkshire county ground, political message against India and Pakistan have whizzed over the ground. From ‘End mob lynching in India’, “Justice for Kashmir” to “Justice for Balochistan”, slogans have caught the attention of not just the fans at the venue but also the BCCI and the ICC.
However, the Indian board’s written complaint to the ICC is unlikely to stop the flying placards, regardless of their content. A spokesman for PrivateFly, a company that rents out private jets, told The Indian Express that “technically and legally you can charter a private aircraft and fly over regions that are not no-fly zones.” Leeds doesn’t have any restrictions on the path of aircraft. Further clearing the clouds was Chief Superintendent Steve Cotter, Leeds District commander, who, in a statement by West Yorkshire Police, confirmed they didn’t have the power to stop aerial messaging.
Banners reading “#Justice for Kashmir” and “India stop genocide & free Kashmir” were flown over Headingley during India’s World Cup clash with Sri Lanka on Saturday.#INDvSL #abhinandan #CWC2019 #Ehsaas #JusticeForKashmir #WorldHeritage #BJPMembership2019 #PakistanZindabad pic.twitter.com/2VWzkAf72i
— Haris Kh. (@HarisKH18) July 6, 2019
“In our democratic society, people have the legal right to protest, and a balance always needs to be struck between that right and the rights and freedoms of others to go about their lawful business. We had no prior knowledge of the initial flyovers on either occasion but when they were brought to our attention, we assessed the content of the messages being free speech that did not constitute any criminal offence.”
He further stated: “We also liaised with air traffic control who confirmed that the flights were legitimate and in keeping with their regulations for this controlled airspace. As such, no assurances were given by us to the International Cricket Council that any further flights would be prevented, nor would we have any legal basis for doing so.” Interestingly, along with the political messages were a couple of less-talked about banners over Leeds during the India-Sri Lanka game on Sunday – ‘Would you marry me Tamaira?’ and ‘Love cricket, Love Mumtaz, Leeds’.
While there is no word on whether Tamaira has agreed to Sam, we know this: Asad, the owner of Mumtaz, a Pakistani restaurant, is embarrassed about it all. “Zulm ho gaya bhai. Hum sharminda hai. (It was wrong. We are embarrassed.) Please tell the world that we didn’t have anything to do with those political messages and any anti-India messages. Some people are confusing and thinking since our banner went that day, we are also behind the other stuff. We are not.”
Mohammed Shami, didn’t play that game but must have smiled on seeing the restaurant’s message. Around that time, they had used a picture of Shami standing outside the restaurant with a text scribbled ‘Hoping to have Mohammed Shami and the rest of the Indian cricket team at Mumtaz Leeds after today’s match!!” The restaurant not only offers regular dining but also caters to “Mehendi/wedding/business functions” and a private function room that seats 80 people.
Asad says a friend from Bradford had done it for them that day. They have also flown over the cricket ground before. “Leeds cricket ground is a not a no-fly zone. So, we can do it. It can’t be done over Lord’s and some other cricket grounds. So, it’s not illegal to fly over the ground at Leeds,” he says. “I wish my friend hadn’t done it that day after those planes had already flown over but what to do now.”