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IPL chiefs head for England and South Africa

The Indian Premier League is sending officials to England and South Africa to decide which country should host the 2009 edition of the lucrative Twenty20 competition.

"Delegations from IPL will be going to both countries within 24 hours to assess venues and discuss the possibilities of logistics," IPL chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview today.

A decision on the host was expected within days.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced on the weekend it was shifting the tournament offshore because the government had refused to sanction its match schedule. The 10 April to 24 May competition clashes with India's federal elections, causing concern that security forces would be stretched too thinly to cover both events.

The IPL attracts many of the world's leading players on lucrative contracts.

Some players and officials have expressed concerns about playing on the subcontinent after terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, Pakistan earlier in the month.

Seven Sri Lankan test players, an assistant coach and a match official were among those injured in a deadly ambush by gunmen as the team traveled to Gaddafi Stadium during the second test. Six policemen and a driver were killed.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram earlier Monday defended the government's stance on security for sports events in the wake of the IPL's decision to move the tournament.

"I've repeatedly said that cricket or any other game is completely safe when played in India," Chidambaram said. "The question is when the matches should be played. Should they be played when the elections are in full swing?"

Elections for the Indian Parliament's lower house will take place across the country in five different phases between April 16 and May 13. The government wanted IPL organizers to delay the tournament, but that would have been impractical for international cricket, with the Twenty20 World Cup scheduled for June in England.

"Holding matches outside India is their (the BCCI's) decision. I don't wish to make a judgment on that," Chidambaram said. "Cricket is a game. In India, it's a hugely popular game. However, it appears IPL is more than a game, it's a shrewd combination of sport and business.

"There's no need to add politics to this combination."

Chidambaram said the cricket board's statement obliquely criticised the government, even though it was the state security agencies that raised the most concern about the scheduling of matches.

"The schedule substantially overlapped the election schedule, when we found that we conveyed our views to the IPL organizers," Chidambaram said. "Every state that has expressed its reservation, saying they could provide security after the elections are over.

"The central government respects their opinion."

Opposition lawmaker Arun Jetlie, who is also a BCCI vice president, blamed the federal government for the IPL shift.

Jetlie said the union government's "noncooperation" would send wrong signals to the international community.

"Has India become so insecure that a domestic tournament has to go abroad?" Jetlie said. "We used to hear about security threats to sporting events in Pakistan, but now this is happening in India. This will surely give wrong signals."

Chidambaram said Jetlie had "gone overboard."

"The Lahore attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team has nothing to do with the discussion with the IPL and BCCI," Chidambaram said.

India was also the target of a terror attack at Mumbai in November, which left 164 people dead and forced the cancellation of the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 tournament for the leading provincial teams from five countries.

Bangladesh canceled this month's cricket tour by Pakistan after authorities said they were unable to provide adequate security to a visiting team in the wake of a mutiny by border guards last month cost the lives of more than 70 people in Dhaka.

The IPL, featuring eight city-based franchises, comprises 59 matches including semi-finals and a final.