The stakes are higher than normal every time India and Pakistan square up against each other in sports.
At the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the narrative was different when shooters from the rival nations competed together for the first time.
India’s Saurabh Chaudhary and Pakistan’s Nubaira Babur – both aged 16 – paired up in the 10m air pistol mixed international team event on Thursday, having learned of their partnership only a day earlier.
“If our combination is viewed a symbol of friendship, then I can be only happy about it,” Babur said, after the duo lost 10-3 to the Croatia-Belarus pair of Marijana Matea Strbac and Abdul-Aziz Kurdzi in the round of 16 qualifiers.
“Yeah, everyone talks about the rivalry. But I don’t think either of us were bothered about the fact that we belong from India and Pakistan.”
The mixed international team event, which made its Youth Games debut at Nanjing 2014, requires the first-placed male shooter in the finals of the individual event of the discipline to pair up with the female shooter who ends up at the bottom of the standings.
Saurabh topped the individual event with his first YOG gold on Wednesday, while Babur, the only shooter in the Pakistan contingent, had a last-place finish.
Three wars and continual tensions between India and Pakistan have added fuel to the sporting rivalry between the two South Asian countries, particularly in cricket, the most popular sport in the subcontinent.
“I don’t follow cricket or other sports so much, so I don’t have much to say about sports contests between India and Pakistan,” Saurabh said.
“When we trained yesterday for a few hours, we focused on our individual strengths. Today, during the competition, too, it was the same.
“There was no added pressure or whatever just because we are from India and Pakistan. Yes, we didn’t qualify for the next round but maybe it’s a fair way to balance all teams, so I am OK with it.”
It is not the first time that athletes from the two countries have teamed up: India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi formed a 12-year-old doubles partnership in tennis and were known as the “Indo-Pak Express.”
The pairing of Saurabh and Babur at the shooting range in Parque Sarmiento, though, represented a rarity. The low-key nature of the event meant there was no frenzied atmosphere or heavy media spotlight on the teenagers.
“In the little time we shared, I think I have been able to pick up a few learnings from him,” Babur said. “At the end of the day, it’s only this experience that matters for us young athletes.”
This article first appeared on the official website of the Youth Olympic Games.