Any sporting rivalry between India and Pakistan is sure to draw the full attention of the two nations, particularly when inside a cricket stadium in Dubai.
The inaugural Baseball United Dubai Showcase, the first professional baseball league in the Middle East and South Asia, plans to do just that by pitting the Mumbai Cobras against the Karachi Monarchs.
The four-team showcase event also includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the two other franchises, in the four-game tournament at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in November after a landmark signing of a 15-year deal between Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and Baseball United.
Kash Shaikh, chairman and CEO of Baseball United, knows just how much the India-Pakistan rivalry excites people from both countries.
“My dad was born in India and mum in Pakistan. I was born in Texas. I grew up with the understanding of the beauty and the conflict of this region,” Shaikh said.
“In my own small way, I want to bring these people together as the founder of the first ever South Asian fraternity in the United States.
“A big part of my life is breaking down these barriers and now we get to do it with a sport that I’m most passionate about. We call it baseball diplomacy. How can we take this American sport and America’s pastime to use it to unite and inspire people?”
Shaikh had earlier created a piece of history by bringing both India and Pakistan to the inaugural West Asia Cup in Islamabad in January.
“We partnered with the Pakistan Baseball Federation to host this seven-nation baseball event that also included Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and Palestine,” he said.
“It was a ground-breaking event for an Indian national team to play their Pakistan counterpart on Pakistani soil.
“The Indian team had to travel more than 25 hours to cross the border. The event didn’t get as much attention as it deserved but to think about it, there are few instances in history of any Indian national team touring Pakistan.”
Shaikh has been passionate about baseball his whole life and been in the professional game for over 20 years.
“I always had the dream growing and getting more involved in the game,” he said.
“Our team and I got together for a year-and-a-half now with this idea of taking baseball to the highest level in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
“The Gulf and the subcontinent have a footprint of over two billion people and out of that one billion are cricket fans. So, this is a bat and ball game at the centre of the universe.”
Shaikh has spent the past two decades in leadership roles at Procter & Gamble, GoPro, and his own companies, including sports marketing firm BSB Sports and growth consultancy BSB Group International.
His sports industry experience includes working with teams, athletes and brands across some of the world’s largest professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, UFC and the Olympics.
“When we started this journey, the objective was to inspire the cricket and baseball fans, and the beautiful part of the journey was once we got into the market to get the data for our research, we found out actually there were way more baseball fans than we could imagine,” Shaikh said.
“In India alone, there were 53 million baseball fans. That’s actually more than the golf, F1, MMA and boxing fans. In Saudi Arabia we found there are 1.5 million baseball fans and here in the UAE 800,000 that followed the game.
“Our mission is to inspire one billion people to take up baseball and inspire those cricket fans, and yes, we want to engage people from cricket, be it current players or former players. That’s our strategy to bring the bat and ball game together.
“There are more baseball fans both in India and Pakistan than one would imagine but cricket is so big that it doesn’t show the following baseball has in these countries.”
The Baseball United Dubai Showcase is to expand from four teams to eight for their next edition.
“The Showcase is just the start. We are in talks with six countries in the GCC and seven in the subcontinent,” Shaikh said.
“We are looking at different franchises and that’s when it gets fun. We plan to have eight teams, and then our plan is to conduct events both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the other GCC countries.
“We signed a partnership with the baseball federations of India and Pakistan. We’ll soon announce a partnership with Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia. Baseball is an Olympic sport and I don’t see why it won’t grow in the region.”