The attack on the Sri Lankan team has no parallel in the history of sports
By Waris Ali
It was absolutely unprecedented; a sports team toured Pakistan, defying all advice and threats of terror and encountered a treatment which can be rightly declared the worst example of terrorism. The Sri Lankans had agreed to play with Pakistan as a guest team at a time when India refused to come to Pakistan in response to the Mumbai terror attacks in November. It was an honour to Pakistan and a show of solidarity the Sri Lankans demonstrated in a very tough time when the security concerns had rendered Pakistan almost aloof in the cricket world; no team was willing to visit the country under the shadows of terror.
Terrorism has crept into sports and seems to be omnipresent in this period of time; it is fast covering all major walks of life. From the Athens Olympics in 2004, when security had for the first time become a major concern, to the Beijing Olympics, authorities behaved cautiously, suspecting that terror might hit the mega event.
Pakistan has already suffered threats of terrorism which affected directly the cricket tourists. Earlier in September 2001, the New Zealand team returned even before reaching Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
In May 2002, a suspected suicide bomber killed 14 people outside the Karachi hotel where the New Zealand team was staying, prompting the tourists to fly away and abandon the series. This cancellation of the tour was the third major cricket event called off in Pakistan in the past year, after Australia refused to tour in March and the ICC postponed the elite eight-nation Champions Trophy set for August until 2009.
In September 2003, a bomb blast in Karachi forced South Africa to postpone a tour of Pakistan. Two years later in October, England refused to play a Test in Karachi over security fears and, in 2007, a Karachi Test had to be shifted to Multan after South Africa refused to play there after an assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto. In March 2008, Australia bluntly refused to tour Pakistan but agreed to play with Pakistan in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
But those were threats of attacks only, not the attacks themselves, and this is what happened this time. The March 2009 attack has no parallel in history of the country when 12 gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's touring team with guns and grenades on a busy road outside the Gaddafi Stadium, killing two civilians and six policemen, and wounding seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach, a Pakistani umpire and 10 policemen.
The condemnations this incident invited are also unprecedented. While the world of cricket was stunned and shocked, the governments and statesmen were also dumb over its horror. South Africa captain Graeme Smith said the attack brought home to him the real meaning of tragedy. "The word tragedy is often used to describe a setback on the sporting field, but this is a real tragedy for cricket and for all decent people."
WICB President Julian Hunte said, "The people of Pakistan will now be denied international cricket. The attacks prove that the ICC was wise not to schedule the 2009 Champions Trophy there," Hunte added.
Pakistan's legendary cricketer Imran Khan blamed lax security and apologised to the Sri Lankan team for touring Pakistan despite huge pressure. "I strongly condemn the security provided to the Sri Lankan team because it was ten times less than what is given to Interior Advisor Rehman Malik," Imran said.
The words of former England cricketer Dominic Cork, who was in Lahore as a television commentator, that no more international cricket should be played in Pakistan are an insult to the country which its rulers deserve. He also vowed never to return to the country himself.
Cork added that former England opener Chris Broad was unhurt but severely shaken after being caught up in the attack. "He (Broad) said it was the most frightening experience of his life," said Cork.
The players' union chief executive Paul Marsh said the savage attack would have massive ramifications for Pakistan cricket. "It is one of those things, you know the risk is pretty large in that part of the world in Pakistan, but there has always been a belief that sports people will not be targeted and I am just stunned," Marsh said.
While President Asif Zardari's condemnation was the weakest response and his Sri Lankan counterpart's declaring it a cowardly attack was a consolation, US President Barack Obama's deep concern over the violence and India's pointing political scores on the tragedy show how widely it stunned the world.
The ICC reaction, justified by all means, is also unprecedented when the International Cricket Council cast doubt on Pakistan's hopes of remaining a co-host of the 2011 World Cup, saying the attacks had changed the global landscape of the game.
The tragedy has rocked Pakistan and prompted a security review for the 2011 World Cup, which is due to be jointly hosted by India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. "We will have to think carefully about the extent Pakistan will be used for the event," the ICC President David Morgan said in London.
ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said the sport's ruling body would not make a "knee-jerk" response to the attacks, but warned that it will be difficult to persuade cricketers to play in Pakistan.
Before this, the ICC and administrators in the four host countries were banking on the fact the World Cup was still two years away. Of the 15 World Cup venues that had been identified, eight are in India, four in Pakistan, two in Sri Lanka and one in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is to host the opening ceremony on February 19, 2011 while the final will be played in India and the two semifinals shared by Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Australia and New Zealand are already on standby if South Asia is unable to organise the tournament.
The PCB response to the ICC objections is itself unprecedented. COO Saleem Altaf said no Sri Lankan player was seriously injured. "We took as much care as possible and the team safely reached the airport. No Sri Lanka player was critically injured and the fourth umpire, Ahsan Raza, was also out of danger after he was operated upon."
Raza, a local umpire, suffered wounds to his lungs. How absurd that Altaf took the credit of saving the players, without accepting any responsibility of the attacks. In other words, he was saying that the attacks were not the incident, instead the safety of the Sri Lanka team was the incident for which all credit goes to the PCB.