Cricketers’ Gift Evokes Memories of Cold War Diplomacy

Posted by Priscilla Linn
April 6, 2009
Cricket Ball Cigarette Lighter
1950's Cricket Ball Cigarette Lighter
1950's Cricket Ball Cigarette Lighter (Detail)
1950's Cricket Ball Lighter (Detail)

About the Author: Priscilla Linn is the Senior Curator at the U.S. Diplomacy Center.

The words, written in 1950, on the silver plaque holding the cigarette lighter, shaped like a cricket ball, are formal, simple and true: "To their excellencies the Ambassador and Mrs. Briggs with the appreciative good wishes of the cricketers of Prague."

Who were the “cricketers of Prague,” and why were they so appreciative?

This group of diplomat sportsmen, assembled from various embassies in the Czech capital, had nowhere to play in Prague during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Soviet leaders reacted harshly to all Czech citizens having cultural contact with the capitalist West, including observing “decadent sports.”

Ambassador and Mrs. Briggs rescued the team by inviting them to play on the grounds of their residence, or “Petschek Palace,” the name used at the time. Thick shrubbery around the property’s perimeter protected the players’ privacy. The cricketers alternated with a joint embassy baseball team, each playing alternate weeks. According to Ambassador Briggs, the stand-out cricket star was the Indian embassy’s maharajah of Alirajpur.

When sports and diplomacy gain media attention, the news is usually good, such as the ping pong diplomacy with China in the 1970s, or bad, like the armed attack of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan on March 3, 2009. The cricket ball shaped cigarette lighter tells a story about the complexities of diplomacy.

The gift came about because relations between the governments of the U.S. and then Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia were badly strained. Ambassador Briggs commented in his memoir, Proud Servant (1998 edition, page 281) “it became impossible for non-Communist diplomats to enjoy any kind of social relations with the citizens of the country. . . .” Non-Communist diplomats did not want to endanger the lives or well-being of Czech citizens, and as a result, spent virtually no time face to face in public diplomacy. The diplomatic corps of Prague had to rely on each other for information, intelligence and recreation.

The gift — the cricket ball shaped lighter — represents multinational friendships among a stalwart diplomatic corps managing during adverse times.

The Diplomacy Center would be pleased to hear from anyone who knows anything more about any of the sports played at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in then Czechoslovakia or the origins of the silver lighter at usdc@state.gov.

Comments

Comments

Wendy
|
California, USA
April 6, 2009

Wendy in California writes:

Dear Curator Linn,

Absolutely riveting vignette. Thanks! Please please tell us the tales of other Diplomacy Center objets periodically. What an unexpected window into an era.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 7, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Pricilla, Facinating bit of history.

Do you suppose that it would be possible to get the President to invite all the foreign ministers from all the embassies in Washington, to have a snowball fight on the South lawn next winter?

Might reduce international tensions and produce a lot of laughs, as well as an opportunity to raise money through various international corporate sponsorship of individual participants for international aid programs via the media.

(given the cost of a 30 second spot during the Superbowl, we're not talking peanuts here.)

I'm thinking that it would probably be the most widely viewed "sporting event" ever conceived.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 7, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Correction to previous post: I meant to say Ambassadors, but now that I think of it, each nation must have a "team".

So I suggest we add foreign ministers, perm UN reps, and heads of state as well.

I know this would involve the complete breakdown of traditional diplomatic and Whitehouse protocol, and that I may be nuts for suggesting that a global nuclear free world will be furthered by a snowball fight on the South lawn, but I have no doubt that all nations involved will appreciate the need for global missile defense and disarmament after slinging a few hundred snowballs at each other.

(creative example of leading by example, for the good of all.)

cricket
May 28, 2009

Cricket Fan writes:

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing such exclusive photos. I will share about it with my friends on my blog soon.

.

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