It's Tony Blair with the bat! - The Times of India
The favourite diplomatic activity, at least in a recent couple of cases in the capital, seems to be cricket! The last time a foreign dignitary knocked a few sixes around a field here was when the PM of New Zealand got down onto the pitch at Kotla, and now, it's Tony Blair.
The former British PM was in Delhi on Wednesday, enjoying the increasingly pleasant afternoons at the residence of the British High Commissioner, Richard Stagg. Blair was here to promote inter-faith harmony among students through his Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Sporting a white shirt and jeans, Blair played cricket with not only a group of underprivileged students, but also with Rohan Gavaskar, Sunil Gavaskar's son, during a mini-cricket match.
He chatted with DT after the match, and when asked about playing cricket, said, "I was impressed, actually - there was a lot of talent there this morning. I set up a Sports Foundation in the north of England, so I've learned never to underestimate the talent of young people passionate about their sport. This morning was fun, but it wasn't just a photo opportunity! It was organised by our young leaders in Delhi, the Faiths Act Fellows. They're four young people - two Hindus, a Muslim and a Buddhist - who are bringing young people of different faiths together to help tackle the diseases that affect mothers and children. They'd brought along 30 children and teenagers from different backgrounds who were enthusiastic and took their game seriously, and they worked me hard! We decided to display the malaria nets behind the wicket to draw attention to our campaign to prevent deaths from malaria. I enjoyed it - but there was a serious message behind it."
But does he enjoy cricket generally too? "Well, I enjoy watching cricket, but it's been a while since I played it. It was an honour to face Rohan Gavaskar as a bowler. And my favourite cricketer would have to be a pretty obvious one: Sachin Tendulkar." Talking about the T20 format, Blair said, "It's brought new audiences to cricket. It's made it faster and lively."
"I'm a fan of most sports," said Blair. "I love playing tennis, and it's one of the things which kept me healthy and balanced while I was Prime Minister. I gym at least three or four times a week. My football team is Newcastle United, though it's not so easy to watch them now that I travel so much. I've always enjoyed watching and playing sport for its own sake. But I also think it's a great way of bringing people together - no matter how different their cultures or lifestyles, it can be a good way to unite people with a common passion."
Politics was a natural subject too, and Blair said he was impressed by the young politicians in India. "I really welcome it," he said. "Politics needs youth. Since I stepped down as Prime Minister, I have been careful to avoid commenting on other politicians. But I would encourage young people who feel passionately about making the world a better place to consider getting involved in organised politics. As I said in the House of Commons on the day I left politics - at its best, it is a noble calling."
On improving relations between different religions, and handling global issues such as the environment, health and poverty, he said, "When I set up the Faith Foundation, I wanted it to help bring people of different faiths and cultures together to do something practical, not just to talk and listen. We often read about conflict between different faiths, but in fact, most people are inspired by their faith to do good. I think if people work together on a common cause - such as the environment, health issues or poverty - then they learn a lot about each other in the process. It can build trust and understanding between them in a way that a formal interfaith dialogue sometimes can't. And these issues are big and complex problems - they need the energy and the commitment and the values of the 4 billion people of faith in this world, working together to solve them."
From article 'It's Tony Blair with the bat!' by Piyali Dasgupta in The Times of India