The England badminton team has pulled out of the World Championships in India because of a terrorist threat which has raised new fears over the future of international sporting events in the sub-continent.
The squad withdrew despite repeated assurances from the Indian authorities in Hyderabad, who have deployed 1,000 police and commandos at the stadium to protect athletes competing from 44 countries, that there was no danger to athletes.
England officials blamed reports of an impending attack by the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organisation linked to the atrocities at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai last year, in which 188 people died.
British Sport Minister Gerry Sutcliffe called for greater international co-operation to prevent next year's Commonwealth Games, due to be held in Delhi for the first time, falling foul to terrorist threats.
"I hope we can do something about it, because clearly we've got the Commonwealth Games in India next year, and we don't want to see major sporting events affected in this way, so I think it's up to governments around the world to try and make sure we stamp out, as much as we are able to, this type of thing," Mr Sutcliffe said.
There had been mounting concerns among the England squad and Western sportsmen and women over safety. In 2007, 30 people were killed when two bombs were detonated in Hyderabad – one at a crowded restaurant and another at an open air auditorium resulting in the postponement of the India Open badminton tournament.
Earlier this year two English hopefuls, Carl Baxter and Rajiv Ouseph pulled out of the same contest citing security fears. The same month the Australian tennis team said it was boycotting a Davis Cup tie in Chennai.
In a statement, Badminton England chief executive Adrian Christy said the decision to withdraw had been taken unanimously by the eight-strong squad which included Olympic silver medalist Nathan Robertson.
"After the Olympic Games, this is the most prestigious championship in the world but we were not prepared to risk the safety of our players, coaches and staff in what we felt could have been a very volatile environment," he said.
The team's performance director Ian Moss said the players learnt about the threat from reports in Indian newspapers and had consulted with British diplomats. "We initially thought they had been exaggerated in the media but when the players saw the lack of security at the stadium they passed on their concerns to me and I informed the Badminton World Federation (BWF) that we were withdrawing from the championships," he said.
The BWF said it was "unhappy" at England's decision to go home and the rest of the competitors would stay. It hired independent consultants to assess arrangements at the Gachibowli Stadium where the event will take place and has recruited a private security firm to work alongside uniformed soldiers and police.
The Federation's chief Thomas Lund told a packed news conference that he had not been able to speak to the England team ahead of its announcement to reassure them that there was "no security issue" with the tournament. "We are happy with the security arrangements. We are confident that the championship will take place smoothly on schedule," he said.
The current travel advice for Britons visiting the region warns of a high threat from terrorism in parts of India, including Hyderabad. There have been numbers of reports of planned terrorist attacks in the days running up to Indian Independence Day next week with targets including Delhi.
State and city governments were told that public places such as shopping malls, cinema halls and markets could be under threat. It is believed the intelligence was based on an interrogation report taken from interviews with suspected terrorists arrested along the disputed line of control between India and Pakistan.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has become one of the most feared terrorist groups fighting against Indian control of Kashmir. It was only banned in Pakistan following the September 11 attacks and has since been driven underground where it is believed to have splintered into a number of factions. Its most notorious attack was on the Indian parliament in 2002 which brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. It has also been blamed for a bomb attack in Delhi in 2005 in which 60 people were killed.
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