Terror forces India to abandon plans to host cricket contest

Games will be played outside the cricket-obsessed nation because security would be overstretched
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The Independent Online

Indians reacted with anger and sadness after it was announced yesterday that a hugely popular cricket tournament will have to be played outside the country because the government cannot ensure security.

In what was seen as another example of sport falling victim to the threat of terrorism, cricket officials said state and federal authorities had not approved the schedule for the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament because it clashed with a general election which will dominate the attention of security personnel.

After last year's attack in Mumbai, in which 164 people were killed, and the recent attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan, some players and officials had voiced doubts about playing in the subcontinent. Shashank Manohar, head of the Board of Control for Cricket for India (BCCI), said: "Due to the attitude of the government that it cannot provide security for the tournament, we are forced to take a decision to move the IPL out of India."

The decision will have considerable consequences in the cricket-obsessed nation. "IPL breaks heart of fans across the country," was the headline in The Times Of India.

On a dusty field on the edge of Delhi's Deer Park yesterday, where multiple, overlapping games of cricket were being played, aficionados such as Manish Kumar, a student, were gutted that they would not have the excitement of watching matches live at the city's Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium. Now they will have to content themselves with television footage beamed in from an overseas venue. The location has yet to be confirmed, but Britain and South Africa are among the contenders.

But beyond that, the decision is already stoking popular Indian antipathy towards Pakistan. Cricket fans said they had little doubt that officials had responded to the attacks in Mumbai and Lahore, blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

"Terrorism is increasing day by day and that is the main problem," said Saurav Singh, 23, a software engineer, enjoying a spot of Sunday afternoon pick-up cricket. "Anything bad that happens during the IPL would be a disaster for India."

Anantha Krishnan, a businessman watching the games, added: "You cannot trust the Pakistan government. I feel angry and sad. We are not able to do anything about it, and that makes me angry. The fact that things are like this makes me sad."

The second year of the IPL tournament, which draws international players including Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, is scheduled to be held between 10 April and 24 May. India's general election is due to take place in five phases between 16 April and 13 May. Ministers had asked the organisers of the popular and profitable IPL to postpone the tournament, but they declined on the grounds that the international cricketing calendar was already very busy.

While officials in several states made clear they did not want the tournament to take place at the same time as the election, some Indian politicians said the decision was wrong. Narendra Modi, a leading member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and chief minister of the state of Gujarat, said the decision to cancel the tournament delivered a message to the world that India was unsafe. Offering to host the 59-match tournament and ensure the security of players, he attacked the Congress Party-led government, saying: "[The] reputation of India as a safe country in the world has been shattered today by the attitude adopted by the government. It has sent a direct signal that the Indian government is bogged down by the terrorists' threats. It will also send the message that India is an unsafe country."

The IPL is one of the instances where two of India's greatest loves – cricket and Bollywood movies – come together. The actors Shahrukh Khan and Priety Zinta own two of the tournament's teams. Yesterday both praised the organisers for finding a way to stage the event. "Being an attempt to resolve an issue, it was a great decision to be able to hold the IPL," said Mr Khan, owner of the Kolkata Knightriders.

Last month, seven Sri Lankan Test cricket players, an assistant coach and a match official were among those injured in an ambush by gunmen as the team made its way to Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Six policemen and a driver were killed.

Sri Lanka were only taking part following a decision by India to cancel their tour in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh last week indefinitely postponed all tours by foreign sports teams – including Pakistan's cricketers – saying it could not guarantee security following a mutiny by border guards.

Winning formula: The Indian Premier League

The inaugural season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) took place last summer, with eight teams fighting it out to reach the final. The eventual winners were Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals, who beat Chennai Super Kings by three wickets in a game which came down to the final ball.

The franchise owners include industrial tycoons and Bollywood stars, who do battle in an auction before the tournament commences to decide who gets which players. Each team is allowed to have 10 foreign players in their squad. Income mainly comes from broadcasting rights, which are sold around the world, and the revenues are split between the league and the franchises.

Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, who are among the England players set to appear in the IPL this year, were the two most expensive players in February's auction, each costing $1.55m (£1m), even though they can only play in the first three weeks of the competition. Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood and Ravi Bopara are also signed up to play in the tournament.

Following the decision to stage the IPL outside India this year, England and South Africa have emerged as possible replacement venues.

Toby Green