DVR alert: New series uses sports to examine cultures and conflicts around the world

There is a new series worthy of your attention.

“Away Games” debuts tonight on the World Channel at 9 p.m. The first installment examines the rivalry in cricket between India and Pakistan, and how it impacts the high tensions between the two countries.

I did a Q/A with producer Ken Shulman.

How do you describe the series?

Away Games is a travel series that uses sport as a lens to view lives, conflicts, and cultures about the globe. For us, sport is a bridge—a common language that makes distant lives and cultures intelligible.

What was your inspiration for doing it?

I’ve been a journalist for nearly 30 years. I’ve filed stories from refugee camps, from particle accelerators, even from scaffolding of the Sistine Chapel. But no matter where I went, and no matter who I was with, the talk eventually came round wound to sport. It’s the one thing humans do that includes everyone—boy, girl, rich, poor, educated, illiterate. I started to ask myself whether there was something we could do with this universal appeal, something beyond selling beer and T-shirts. And I happen to love beer and T-shirts.

How does cricket impact India and Pakistan?

Cricket is the world’s second most popular sport, behind soccer. It is played in every former British colony, with the notable exception of the U.S. In colonial times, when the British ruled India, cricket was originally restricted to whites. When the game opened up, Indians played to show that they were just as good as the British. Since independence and partition in 1947, India and Pakistan play to show they’re better—than each other.

Why is it important for these stories to be told?

It’s not so much important that these stories be told. It’s important that they be understood. And sport is a superb vehicle to help readers and viewers understand. These are stories about human rights, about social justice, about racism and the clash of cultures. When we approach them from a sport angle, we give our audience a foothold. They have something in common with the people they’re watching. And they’ll take an interest in them.

What is the future for this project? 

Our project is twofold. We want to produce our first two seasons of films—24 films in all, including episodes about amputee soccer in Sierra Leone, skateboarding on an apache reservation in Arizona, and Japan’s annual national high school baseball tournament. The second part of Away Games is our educational program. I lecture at colleges and tutor at my local high school. And I’ve seen how sport is a great way to get students to engage. We are currently preparing our first two learning modules about India and Pakistan for selected high schools in the U.S.

Where can viewers see the debut?

Our pilot, “The Greatest Rivalry in all of Sport” premieres Tuesday 12 May at 9pm EST (6 & 8pm PST) on World Channel. There will be several rebroadcasts. Check your local cable provider for listings. Or use this tool to locate World Channel in your area: http://worldchannel.org/schedule/localize/

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