Let's talk Latin America

Playing for the Peruvian national cricket team

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Our sports editor James Williams tells of his experience representing the Peruvian national cricket team on his year abroad, and weighs up the dangers of promoting colonial sports in Latin America.

Waiting to walk on and represent the Peruvian national cricket team in Bogotá, I admittedly felt a little smug. However, as I glanced around at my predominantly expatriate team, boasting only two native Peruvians, I began to feel conflicted. Due to its current ranking as only an affiliated member of the ICC (International Cricket Council), Peruvian nationality or citizenship is not required to be eligible for selection.

As reported by the Guardian, an estimated 80,00 Peruvians flocked to Russia in fervent support of the national football team at the World Cup, with one man reportedly gaining 24kg in the lead up to enhance his chances of getting a less competitive “extra seat width” ticket, the same hungry passion was not quite as evident in the support of the national cricket team. To say two men and a dog were in attendance at Peru’s championship fixtures this year would be an overstatement.

The introduction and development of cricket in Peru is spearheaded by British and Australian projects which attempt to promote inclusivity by hosting free sessions throughout Lima as well as offering a pathway into coaching for those interested. Yet their efforts beg the question: does cricket need to flourish in Peru?

Cricket has always been a sport for the elite and due to logistical factors such as the cost of equipment, to some extent, it always will be. From its inception, the British hailed cricket as reflecting traditional British values such as sportsmanship, fair play, and even morality. The aim to promote ‘British’ values across the world was an inherently imperialist and colonial mission, and thus they infused the language around British pastimes such as sport with these ‘values’.  A focus on promoting Peruvian cultural practices, instead of imposing traditionally Western ones would seem more culturally beneficial.

Across the world, cricket is by and large a legacy of British imperialism, although in places like India it has been adopted as a national and celebrated cultural practice. Football was supposedly brought ashore by British sailors and played in the ports of Buenos Aires, before organically spreading through Latin America until it reached its current level as the national sport for the majority of Latin American nations and home to arguably the most passionate fans in the world. However, cricket has not had the same trajectory as football in Latin America, and projects that continue to inject this British cultural practice into an unreceptive foreign context fall into the danger of cultural imperialism.


                                                        Mid-match in Bogotá


The sociologist Khondker takes this a step further by drawing attention to the contradictions present in the history and culture of Indian cricket: “when children in a back alley in Dhaka or Calcutta play cricket with their improvised gears and authentic spirit, do they know it is part of a colonial, even hegemonic culture, or that it was a preserve of the elite?” This highlights the question, does offering the opportunity to play and enjoy a new sport justify the continuation of colonial culture?

There is no simple answer to this. However, I would argue that if a country favours a sport, it is senseless to castigate people for the historical context. India, like Latin America with football, has made cricket its own, irrespective of how it arrived on its shores. So, if welcomed, I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with introducing them.

Sport offers both physical and mental benefits, and cricket, as a more technical game, offers an additional alternative to more physically focused sports such as football. To some extent, I believe cricketers are actively looking to modernise cricket, distance it from its imperialist past, and make it an accessible sport that does not solely cater to the English elite, shown by the inclusivity initiatives of Cricket Peru. However, the act of representing the Peruvian national team should be more than an ego-massaging expatriate privilege. Care must be taken to prevent the exercise from becoming a continuation of cultural imperialism by focusing on grassroots sessions with Peruvians and allowing Peru to take cricket in its own direction. Ideally this will lead to Peru progressing from an affiliated ICC member to full member, requiring any player pulling on the Peruvian national cricket shirt to hold Peruvian citizenship.