Price of terrorism: Mega sporting events at risk

By Veturi Srivatsa, IANS,

Pakistan’s most charismatic cricketer, Imran Khan, must be feeling let down by the gunmen who attacked the Sri Lankan team coach on its way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore’s upmarket Gulburg area on the third day of the second and last Test.

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The former Pakistan captain has been insisting that the terrorists will never attack cricketers and implored other cricket-playing nations to visit the country without any fear. He, like many in the subcontinent, thought that cricket is like an elixir and players will not be touched by the zealots.

Cricket tours were cancelled in the past for fear of attacks, death threats, natural calamities or on grounds of racial discrimination but never were cricketers targets of terror attacks.

The 1972 Munich massacre is by far the worst case of terror in sport when 11 Israeli athletes were gunned down by Palestinians in the Olympic Village.

The Lahore attack has now put the 2011 World Cup in jeopardy. With a suicide Tamil Tiger last year killing a minister and athletes at a marathon event in Sri Lanka and the mutiny in Bangladesh, the other two co-sponsors are also jittery. India alone seems to be a safe bet though the teams will still insist on fool-proof security.

Two weeks ago, International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Haroon Lorgat asked the World Cup organisers that they should seriously consider shifting venues, both within and outside Pakistan if political climate there worsens.

Soon after the Lahore incident he had clearly stated that in the next couple of days some serious decisions will be taken, thereby hinting that it will be highly difficult to retain Pakistan as a co-host of the quadrennial event. Some climbdown from the position that the World Cup is still a long way to go and it is too early to be concerned about security.

Lorgat minced no words when it came to telling Pakistan that the ICC would not post match officials for a series in Pakistan unless it is satisfied with the security arrangements. Though the statement irked the Pakistanis, they know that the ICC by inference is backing its member-countries and taking their apprehensions seriously.

Pakistan have not played a Test the entire last year as country after country refused to play them in their backyard. As many as five countries – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and the West Indies – declined to play there. The ICC had to postpone the Champions Trophy, which was to be held in September, and now the event has been shifted out in the face a spate of bombings and machine gun attacks. What broke Pakistan’s back was India’s cancellation of the tour in December.

Sri Lanka were actually playing in Pakistan to fill in for India. The island nation has also agreed to bail out the Indian board by playing a one-day series, sandwiching it between their One-Dayers and Test in Pakistan. The short visit to Sri Lanka was to compensate for the Indian board’s Rs.1.2 billion loss due to cancellation of England’s last two games and the subsequent Twenty20 Champions League.

If the security fears continue, then there will be only a few countries where cricket could be played. There were comparisons between what’s happening in Pakistan and the terror strikes in India, but things were soon put in perspective by two of the most sensitive teams, Australia and England, going ahead with their tours. England returned to play the Test series in the aftermath of Mumbai.

The Pakistani board in sheer desperation even toyed with the idea of playing India at a neutral venue, but the move was dropped in the face of mounting public pressure in both the countries.

The ICC concern is to protect international cricket from the uncertainties of terrorist attacks. Only Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa are free from the menace, but security concerns in Africa and the Caribbean are of different nature.

In fact, the costs of terrorism is making a lot of countries wary of hosting mega sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup Soccer. Can sport be held in camera or stopped for ever fearing violence? The answer is: No.

(3.03.2009-Veturi Srivatsa is a senior editor with IANS. He can be contacted at [email protected])