Near a place called Liberty Square last Monday, sport lost its freedom. The devastating attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore will change the terms of engagement for players and spec- tators for as long as terrorism exists. Sadly, it threatens to stretch generations into the distance, way beyond the horizon of the foreseeable future.
Cricket never expected this. Although it had in various places instituted what it liked to call presidential-level security in the past few years, it was always accompanied by the unspoken assurance that players would never be targets. In those circumstances, presidential-level security can gradually slip to fitter's mate-level security. For much of the past decade in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, players have had soldiers carrying guns as perpetual companions. But they never felt as if they needed them, and often the soldiers may as well not have been there (it remains a moot point whether the latter was true in Liberty Square).
It was always an essential part of the lip service paid to those who calculated the security threat. It made everybody feel better but not necessarily more or less safe. The number of hotel corridors negotiated past sleeping baby-faced warriors with rifles between their knees has been mounting for all cricketers who have plied their trade in the subcontinent.
Nobody, from Lahore to Lord's, expected cricketers to be attacked. That changed swiftly and dramatically as the 12 murderers launched their audacious daytime raid with guns, a rocket and a hand grenade last week. Not since the massacre of 13 members of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics in 1972 have sportsmen been directly attacked as part of a terrorist cause. But this time it is different.
The Israelis were killed because of where they came from and what they were perceived to represent. The Sri Lanka players were attacked simply because they were cricketers and had a high public profile which seems to have suited the terrorists' purposes in a country where the sport somehow retains its significance. It is incongruous that they were travelling to the third day of the match at the Gaddafi Stadium, where security men had throughout easily outnumbered the smattering of spectators.
When a few more days have passed and cricketers, or other sportsmen, have avoided being murdered by madmen, there will be a natural movement towards the resumption of normal business. Not in Pakistan. That would be unthinkable after what has happened; no player would go there. It is a huge shame for their cricket and a country with so few diversions.
David Morgan, the president of the International Cricket Council who was occasionally defensive but otherwise outstanding in a hastily convened press conference at Lord's last Tuesday, has alluded to cricket being played in England while Islamic terrorists were at work in 2005. But arguments along these lines, attempting to mollify the subcontinent, miss the entire point: cricketers were the target in Lahore and therefore could be again.
The ramifications are boundless. There will be much well-intentioned waffle about the need not to bow to the terrorists and self-congratulatory claptrap about the power of the human spirit. This will have its place. But the very act of playing and watching sport will contradict what it was all originally started for. To relax, to forget for a few hours the cares of the world.
Attending a big cricket match in England is already a pretty joyless affair. Bags are searched partly on security grounds, partly to check that if you are not taking in a bomb you have not secreted a bottle of wine.
If Pakistan play Australia in England in 2010, as is being suggested, the crowds will be larger than for any Test in Karachi, Faisalabad or Lahore, but the security will be oppressive. The World Twenty20 in England next summer will be boom time for the industry. Players will be protected to within an inch of their lives, spectators will be frisked to within an inch of theirs. It will be like that at every ICC event everywhere. Then you can have fun.
The Indian Premier League, supposed to be the zenith of cricket as a good time, has made arrangements which according to its commissioner, Lalit Modi, are foolproof. This makes him a hostage to terrorist whim.
There has been claim and counter-claim after Liberty Square. The ICC, who are blamed for everything, insisted that the security arrangements were nothing to do with them since it was a bilateral series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which the two countries had arranged between them. Up to a point. The Test series was part of the ICC rankings table, the umpires and match referee are ICC employees. To indulge in semantic arguments about where the duty of care lay makes both parties look insensitive.
Cricket will resume. It already has in Port-of-Spain, Durban and Wellington. But it has suffered a crushing blow from which it cannot easily recover. In some places and in some competitions the foreseeable future is not in the line of vision. Simon Taufel, one of the umpires in Lahore when he was caught in the firing line, was succinct: "It's just a bloody game of cricket and we're in a bloody war." There is no peace treaty to be signed in a hurry.Reuse content