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  • Writer's picturePaul Rhys

Lahore showed why we need sport

Published on Al Jazeera English, 24 December 2009.

As we look back on a year of sport in 2009, what images spring to mind?

Maybe you see Jamaica’s Usain Bolt sprinting to another explosive world record on the track, a year after his exploits at the Beijing Olympics.

You might think of the scenes as Brazil secured the 2016 Olympics, or as the South Africa 2010 World Cup draw was held in Cape Town this month.

Of Algeria beating Egypt in a World Cup playoff. Of Thierry Henry’s handball that put Ireland out of the finals.

The Yankees winning the World Series. Kim Clijsters winning the US Open on her return to tennis.

Your own football team finally securing a 1-0 victory after a losing streak in the lower divisions.

Perhaps it will be the emotion at Espanyol at the sudden death of their 26-year-old captain Dani Jarque. Or Hannover goalkeeper Robert Enke’s funeral after the depressed Germany international committed suicide.

Every year, sport will serve us up winners and losers, glory and pathos.

Every year, human beings will die of heart attacks or kill themselves. When they are sportsmen, it hits us harder because sport connects us to them emotionally. Their loss is no greater than anyone else’s – the difference is that, in our way, we know them better.

We have seen them, as living flesh and blood. We have heard them speak our language.

From the myriad pictures of 2009, one event is brought into sharp focus.

On the morning of March 3, Sri Lanka’s elite cricketers were setting off from their hotel on the team bus thinking of the day’s play ahead in the second Test against Pakistan in Lahore.


This most routine part of the players’ lives turned to terror as the bus was ambushed by 12 men with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Six players were wounded in the attack, which was prevented from causing greater carnage by the swift actions of bus driver Mehar Mohammad Khalil.

What tends to be mentioned incidentally is that six Pakistani policemen and two civilians lay dead in the road.

Looking at pictures of the slaughter that came to Al Jazeera, it was impossible not to think of the families they had said goodbye to after breakfast not many minutes before.

Pakistan is counting the human cost of such attacks every week. And on much larger scales.

But that takes nothing away from the stoicism of the Sri Lankan players.

Even the wounded among them spoke in measured terms about the death they had faced. More measured, in most cases, than when faced with a poor umpiring decision.

Sporting tragedy

This is why Lahore was a tragedy not just in human terms, but in sporting terms as well.

Because we need sport. You can think cricket is 22 men messing about with a ball, but you will never convince the millions whose passion it is in England, India, Pakistan or Australia.

Sport lets us care deeply about something that – when we get home at night to our families – just does not really matter. That is a precious thing to have.

Pakistanis have lost a national treasure by the prevention of their cricketers from playing the game at home. The team is packed off to Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The hosting of tournaments like the ICC Champions Trophy and the World Cup has gone up in smoke.

For most of us the show goes on.

But if there is one thing we can learn from 2009, it is to savour those addictive highs and lows that sport provides.

Because real life is just around the corner.

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