The sound of willow on leather is what the UK is famous for. The bat. The red ball. The whites. But today, a different kind of cricket. The Vatican XI versus a multi-faith Commonwealth team.
At exactly 10 am, the toss. The Commonwealth wins and elects to bat. Now the fun begins. In truth, though, cricket is a secondary issue. Who wins, who loses isn’t of import. What is important is ‘Peace at the Crease’, a new initiative from the Commonwealth to use sport as a way to, among other things, combat violent extremism and tackle climate change.
“Over the weekend, Hurricane Beryl started to make its way towards the island of my birth, Dominica. Dominica has been grievously hit twice in the last two years. Once in 2015 by a Tropical Storm Erika, which caused each of Dominica’s 365 rivers to break their banks, damaged 95 per cent of the country’s GDP and absolutely devastated the whole island,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Scotland.
“In 2017, there was Hurricane Maria where we lost 230 per cent of our GDP. Now, Beryl in making her way towards Dominica seemed frighteningly to be about to do the same thing. The people of Dominica are brave. They prayed hard that the hurricane would dissipate but they did not just pray, they worked.
“They worked hard to bring people together. We need to make peace with nature and regenerate our damaged ecosystems . So, our Peace at the Crease Initiative will go next to the Caribbean and many of the island states which face this threat. What we are going to do is to hit climate change for six, and we are going to do that together.”
The Commonwealth has been leading sport for peace and sport for development for many years, but it was determined to bring people of faith and those of none together to face some of the most challenging issues of today. One of those is climate change, and out of the 53 member states, 31 are small states and 25 of these are small islands. For those countries, said the Secretary-General, climate change is an existential threat.
In scorching temperatures, after 20 overs the Commonwealth had scored 127 for 8. The UK is the current chair in office for the Commonwealth, and Secretary of State for digital, culture, media and sport, Matt Hancock, who was today’s captain, praised those on the field, the 2.4 billion citizens in 53 countries, and those who made the ‘Peace at the Crease’ a reality.
“There is a need across the world for people to come together and realise the strength that comes from our diversity and this is true today, it is true of this event and the organisations that have been brought together,” he said. “It is only by having confidence in that which unites us and the common values we share that we can truly be confident of celebrating our diversity. I think that happens through the Church and other religious communities. It happens through the power of sport, cricket and people together. It happens across the Commonwealth through these three and other institutions all of which allow us to celebrate all the great benefits that come from our diversity.”
After lunch, it was the turn of the Vatican XI to bat. The home team began well, taking a cheap wicket early on. The airplanes flying in and out of Heathrow airport did nothing to put the side off. The young priests and seminarians were edging forward. For Father Sameer Advani, today was the culmination of a coordinated effort between many institutions.
“Being here has been absolutely great, getting to know people from different cultures and faiths, we are in a process of discovering together the different elements that unite us,” said the Vatican priest. “So, I think that has been a brilliant start for something that we, at the Vatican cricket started four years ago and today, we continue with that tradition. So, this is the beginning of a much larger project through the Commonwealth where through cricket, we are able to bring people together to discuss and address different issues like poverty, slavery and inter-religious division.”
What started as an idea many years ago in the West Yorkshire town of Batley has now grown into, in the words of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, a movement.
“This is a historic game. We want to take it forward,” said The Lord Patel of Bradford from the English Cricket Board (ECB). “Our aim and wishes, as said by Secretary-General Scotland, is actually to turn this into a global event. Communities playing and making change. We do not just want a game of cricket. We want to bring faiths together and show the world that faiths stick together strongly on issues like climate change.”
In the end, the Vatican XI did not need 20 overs to beat the Commonwealth. It did so by scoring 133 with two overs to spare. But really, there was only one winner today. Peace. Watch this space for next year’s match.