Bigamy claim and seized passport threaten sports stars' wedding

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The Independent Online

The heartwarming story of an unusual cross-border romance between two of South Asia's biggest sporting stars has taken a decidedly unromantic twist. Indian authorities have seized the passport of a Pakistani cricketer recently engaged to a leading Indian tennis player after another Indian woman claimed she was already married to the star.

There were celebrations in India and Pakistan last week after the tennis star, Sania Mirza, 23, and the cricket all-rounder Shoaib Malik, 28, announced they were to marry. Mirza broke off a previous engagement earlier this year.

After the allegations against Malik emerged, he said he had been deceived and that the marriage certificate presented by the family was a fake.

He admitted in newspaper interviews over the weekend that he had developed a friendship over the internet with Ayesha Siddiqui in 2002 and then married her over the telephone after they exchanged photographs. But he says he then discovered that the photographs sent to him were of someone else. "I was made to believe the girl in the photograph was the one I was speaking to," he said. "The truth is, I haven't, to this day, met the girl in the photographs Ayesha sent me."

Malik arrived in India last week and is staying at Mirza's house in the southern city of Hyderabad. Yesterday police questioned him for nearly two hours and alerted Indian airports not to allow the player to leave the country. "The case is under investigation," said R Ravinder Reddy, Assistant Commissioner of Police.

For the cricketer, this is not the only problem. He is also fighting a 12-month ban by the Pakistan Cricket Board for poor performance and indiscipline during the team's recent tour of Australia where it lost every match. Mr Malik has appealed against the ban.

Meanwhile, Mirza, the first Indian woman to win a WTA tour event in 2005 and the first to break into the top 40 of world tennis, has stirred the anger of a group of Hindu nationalists. The right-wing political party Shiv Sena, which has previously accused Mirza of showing insufficient respect to the Indian flag, has said could not be truly Indian if she chose to marry a Pakistani.