Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pakistan Attack Puts 2011 Cricket World Cup Matches in Jeopardy

March 3 (Bloomberg) -- Cricket’s run of near misses with terrorists ended today when gunmen injured Sri Lanka players and killed at least five policemen in Pakistan, casting doubt over future matches in the region including the 2011 World Cup.

“This is the first time that cricketers have been attacked,” said N. Srinivasan, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, in an interview.

Two players received gunshot wounds as 12 terrorists carrying rocket launchers and grenades targeted a team bus 500 yards from the Qaddafi stadium in Lahore, where Sri Lanka was due to face Pakistan today. None of the players was seriously injured, team officials said.

Sri Lanka was only playing after India scrapped a visit because of security fears following the Mumbai attacks in November. Terrorists then targeted foreigners, including a hotel used by England’s team weeks earlier. The 2011 World Cup is scheduled for India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“That tournament is now in jeopardy,” said Ramachandra Guha, a cricket historian, in a telephone interview from Bangalore. “No one will agree to go to Pakistan. That will be a massive blow to cricket in the entire subcontinent.”

Sri Lanka canceled its tour after today’s attack and President Mahinda Rajapaksa berated a “cowardly” act on “goodwill ambassadors.” Nations including Australia have refused to play in Pakistan in recent years and the International Cricket Council first postponed and then took away its Champions Trophy from Pakistan originally scheduled for last September.

‘Death of Cricket’

“It’s the death of cricket in Pakistan,” said Shaukat Qadir, a security analyst and retired Pakistani army brigadier general, in an interview. “Only Sri Lanka had the courage to come and play here.”

Sri Lanka was contesting the first Test series to take place in Pakistan since South Africa’s visit in October 2007. New Zealand quit a 2002 series after a bomb near the team hotel in Karachi killed 11 people.

ICC Chief Executive Officer Haroon Lorgat told the BBC no World Cup games will take place in Pakistan without “dramatic changes” in security. He will hold a news conference in London.

“There obviously have been breaches and the security has not been good enough,” Lorgat told Times Now.

The next team scheduled to visit Pakistan is New Zealand, in December, while England is due to travel to the Asian nation in February 2010. Pakistan was awarded one of the semifinals at the Cricket World Cup in two years’ time.

‘Saddest Day’

“This is the saddest day for all sportsmen,” former Pakistani cricket captain Javed Miandad told GEO TV. “The future of cricket in Pakistan doesn’t look good.”

The attack won’t alter plans to hold the Indian Premier League from next month, Srinivasan said. During last year’s event, players sought assurances after bombs in the northern Indian city of Jaipur killed as many as 60 people in a market frequented by cricketers.

England’s cricket team flew home from India immediately after the November attacks in Mumbai before later returning. The inaugural Champions League Twenty20 competition was postponed because of those attacks.

“Every part of the world has to learn to deal with terrorism,” Srinivasan said. “We had concerns about safety (in Pakistan) and also it was after the Bombay attacks so we decided to scrap the tour.”

Pakistan won’t host international teams for at least a year, said cricket historian Guha, while former Australia player Brendon Julian predicted an impasse lasting two years when speaking on Fox Sports today.

‘Rebuild Confidence’

“It is a big dent,” Pakistan’s Sports Minister Pir Aftab Shah Jilani said in an interview. “It will take a coordinated effort to rebuild confidence.”

India and Pakistan used cricket to improve relations when they resumed playing each other in 2004 in the so-called Friendship Series, two years after being on the brink of war. Further matches look unlikely any time soon, former Pakistan cricket captain Asif Iqbal said.

India blamed terrorist “elements” from Pakistan for the Mumbai assault that killed 164 people. It presented a dossier on its evidence to Pakistan in January. After studying the document, the government in Islamabad asked India to answer 30 questions on the findings.

“Nobody can give any assurances when people are prepared to go to these extremes,” Asif said on NDTV from London.

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