Afghanistan, Pakistan fans clash in stands at Headingley

Skirmishes broke out between a section of Pakistan and Afghanistan fans in the stands. Political banners, inside and outside the stadium, were also spotted.

A banner spotted outside the stadium.   -  Shayan Acharya

As the fans walked into Headingley on Saturday morning for the World Cup fixture between Pakistan and Afghanistan, they could spot an airplane flying above the stadium carrying political banners related to Pakistan.

"Help end disappearances in Pakistan”, read one of the banners.

Fans started capturing videos and clicked pictures of the plane. Though the plane disappeared after a while, it was back again during Afghanistan’s innings, this time with a message on Balochistan.

Similar banners could be spotted outside the main gate of the stadium.

While the local organising committee members had no idea about the plane, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking into the issue.

“We work with local police forces around the country to prevent this type of incident occurring and were assured that given Headlingley is under the flight path for the Leeds Bradford Airport it would not be an issue. We do not condone any sort of political messages at the World Cup and will work with West Yorkshire police to deal with and understand why this has happened and to ensure it does not happen again,” an ICC spokesperson told Sportstar.

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The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been on thin ice over the last few years. In 2017, the geopolitical tensions also affected cricketing ties as Afghanistan called off a round of friendly games with its neighbours, hours after a bomb blast in Kabul.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) too had severed ties with the Afghanistan board, even though equations improved subsequently.

But as the two teams locked horns on Saturday, there were some ugly scenes inside and outside the ground with Afghanistan and Pakistan fans getting into a confrontation. A section of the fans scuffled with each other, forcing the security team to send them out of the ground.

On the eve of the game, Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib stated that strong bilateral ties between nations can mend relationships. “If you look at our cricket, we learnt a lot of cricket in Pakistan, We also played cricket in Pakistan,” Naib said on Friday.

“Pakistan is our neighbour country, so it’s very good for us to play a lot of cricket with (them). Also if you play a lot of cricket, it's good for country's relationship. So I'm hoping in the upcoming years we'll play a lot of cricket with them,” Naib said.

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