World Cup 2019: Airplane flies over Headingley with 'Justice for Kashmir' banner

A small airplane did two sorties during the India-Sri Lanka World Cup game with banners related to Kashmir attached to its tail.

A plane flies over Headingley during the World Cup match between India and Sri Lanka.   -  AP Photo

Sport and politics may be strange bedfellows but the twain do meet awkwardly at times. Just as the Indian bowlers were gaining a stranglehold over the Sri Lankan batsmen in a World Cup game at Headingley here on Saturday morning, there was a rumble in the skies.

The third over was in progress when a small plane flew across with a banner attached to its tail and it read “Justice for Kashmir”. As the import of that political message gradually sunk in, a lull ensued and the match continued with its own innate rhythm.

Just as the aerial propaganda was being considered as a one-off incident and Sri Lanka struggled following the fall of four wickets, the plane appeared again and did two sorties circling the ground. The 17th over was being bowled and this time the slogan was more strident: “India stop genocide, free Kashmir”.

Read: Afghanistan, Pakistan fans clash in stands at Headingley

The International Cricket Council promptly issued a statement: “We are incredibly disappointed this has happened again. We do not condone any sort of political messages at the ICC men’s cricket World Cup. Throughout the tournament we have worked with local police forces around the country to prevent this type of protest occurring.  After the previous incident we were assured by West Yorkshire Police there would not be repeat of this issue, so we are very dissatisfied it has happened again.”

It may be recalled that a similiar intrusion through the clouds had happened at the same venue on June 29. Pakistan and Afghanistan were locked in a contest that the former eventually won but the face-off is being remembered more for what happened off the field. There was a scuffle between Pakistani and Afghan fans and incidentally a plane then had flown with the following message: “Justice for Balochistan”.

Also read: ICC working with authorities on increasing vigilance after fans clash during Pakistan-Afghanistan match

Back then the ICC declared: “We work with local police forces around the country to prevent this type of incident occurring and were assured that given Headingley 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 ICC Men’s Cricket 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.”

Obviously, the precautionary measures have failed and a tournament known for pure sport is being dragged into an avoidable political game of smoke and mirrors on the periphery.