Where Cricket Meets Politics Raisina 2023

Asia Media Centre manager Graeme Acton was in Delhi last week, covering India's foremost geopolitical summit, the Raisina Dialogue, 4-6 March. He reports on the geopolitical conflicts discussed at the dialogue - and also some of the more light-hearted moments.

The Raisina Dialogue is India’s premier foreign policy conference, of that there can be little doubt.

Every year it seems to lift its expectations, pull in more people, and address a larger array of issues.

Hosted by the think tank ORF (Observer Research Foundation) in partnership with India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the event also attracts significant private sector support, as well as significant political, academic and military figures from outside the country.

It’s also an opportunity for India to put forward its views on global politics to a largely sympathetic audience.

This year’s meeting was predictably overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine, and one of the more remarkable sessions saw Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov single-handedly batting off aggressive questioning from an audience that openly scoffed at suggestions Ukraine had sparked the conflict.

He went on to suggest that the West is using the QUAD and AUKUS groupings to “drive” a wedge between Russia and other countries.

“We are trying to stop the war,” he told delegates.

Mr Lavrov also repeated his concerns over the US-promoted idea of formulating an ASEAN + QUAD grouping.

“That’s openly aimed at ruining the East Asia Summit – it would be an East Asia Summit without Russia or China. These are the questions I believe you should address.”

A session later in the day involving military heads from Australia, India, and the US sparked wild applause when discussing the West’s continued backing of Kyiv, no matter the cost.

But amid the discussions on conflict and climate change there were some lighter moments.

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar drew some laughs with his extended “cricket as politics” metaphors, while appearing onstage with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen. The subject  - ”Leadership in the age of uncertainty”.

Responding to an audience question over how aggressive his “game” was, Jaishankar compared his Prime Minister to the cricket captain who lets his bowlers play their own game – but also expects them to take wickets.

“With Captain Modi there is a lot of net practice,” he quipped, “The nets practice starts at six in the morning and goes fairly late.”

“If you have a particular bowler you have trust in or you have seen perform, you would give them the latitude. You throw the ball to them at the right moment, and trust them to deal with the situation.”

Praising his own government’s Covid lockdown response, the Minister suggested Captain Modi is able to make the difficult decisions for India.

“Whether it's sports or any other competitive situation, it’s the willingness to make a difficult call and give people confidence you will stand by them,” he said

Asked if India’s dominance of world cricket indicated some kind of ‘weaponising” of the game, Jaishankar suggested India’s cricket fortunes to be more of a “rebalancing” of influence and power with nations like the UK.

Cricketer Kevin Petersen went on to praise India’s triumphs on the field, suggesting organised sport has a great deal to offer in connecting people and nations during times of international tension.

“I think where the world is now, I think cricket, and sport in general sort of unifies the world, that’s important,” he said.

- Asia Media Centre