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Winter Wonderland: How St. Moritz is using cricket to stay relevant to India

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St. Moritz’s legacy as a luxury destination for quirky, expensive hobbies of the world’s rich dates as far back as 150 years ago.

New Delhi: Virender Sehwag and Shahid Afridi found themselves on thin ice on 8 February, quite literally. The two cricketers braved sub-zero temperatures to kick-off the first St. Moritz Ice Cricket Challenge in Switzerland.

The cricket tournament, played on a frozen lake with temperatures hovering at the minus 5 degrees Celsius mark, saw Shahid Afridi’s Royals white-washing Sehwag’s Palace Diamonds in both T20 matches for a 2-0 tournament victory. The event, however, was less about cricket than it was about selling St. Moritz to rich tourists from the subcontinent during the off-season.

Flag-bearers of sportsmanship

For many, the biggest feel-good moment came off the pitch, when Shahid Afridi told a fan to straighten the Indian flag in her hand before a picture. “Flag seedha karo apna (straighten the flag)” he said. The video of the moment went viral, and the Pakistani cricketer’s gesture was hailed by many on social media as being truly emblematic of sportsmanship.

The heartwarming camaraderie between Indian and Pakistan players, however, was just an accidental byproduct of putting professional veterans on the same pitch — the ice would have invariably been broken.

Cricket craze
Bollywood and Switzerland have shared a symbiotic relationship for over 50 years now. The backdrops of DDLJ have become so famous that they draw Indian tourists for a variety of Bollywood inspired tours to Switzerland every year. Now, Switzerland Tourism has added cricket to the list of reasons why Indians should book an expensive ticket to this snow-capped mountain getaway.

India’s first ambassador for Switzerland Tourism, Ranveer Singh, has also been invited to St. Moritz to play ice-cricket in the past. But this barely made news back home.

With players like Virender Sehwag, Ajit Agarkar, Mohammad Kaif, and Zaheer Khan from India; Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akthar, and Abdul Razzaq from Pakistan; and Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga from Sri Lanka, the St. Moritz ice-cricket tournament is a clever way of keeping Switzerland on the tourist radar for people in South Asia. Using the most recognisable faces of cricket from the Asian subcontinent grants Switzerland greater visibility and credibility with an untapped tourist market.

For a paycheck in the range of $40,000-50,000 for two games, the top stars didn’t have to think very hard before signing the dotted line.

St. Moritz is not the only Swiss destination using cricket to make itself attractive to countries like India. One of the highest cricket matches ever played was organised on the Jungfraujoch at 3,453 metres (11,329 feet) in 2009. The world record is 5,752 metres on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

In the lap of luxury
What makes the tournament even more interesting is that it was inaugurated at the birthplace of winter sports. St. Moritz’s legacy as a luxury destination for quirky, expensive hobbies of the world’s rich dates as far back as 150 years ago, when a St. Moritz hotelier,  Johannes Badrutt, bet his British friends that he could offer them a winter experience without the cold, wet sluggishness of England weather. All they had to do was book a flight to the Alps. To amuse themselves during these relaxing ‘white winter vacations, the British introduced ice sports events like curling and cricket tournaments, the bobsleigh track and the Cresta Run.

Of late, horse racing has become the premier event at St. Moritz. Termed the “White Turf,” it is a unique, exclusive, top-class event held in February, which includes gourmet catering, lively music and inspiring art exhibitions for over 35,000 attendees.

The three weeks of February, the period when this sporting extravaganza takes place, also draw the wealthiest sections of society along with their pets. Dogs with fur-boots and sunglasses are known to stroll the premises with owners in equally posh attire.

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