Australia and New Zealand will send teams to the men’s field Hockey World Cup in New Delhi this month despite a reported threat from an al-Qaida-linked organization against competitors in sporting events in India.
The Asia Times Online Web site published a message reportedly from guerrilla commander Ilyas Kashmiri, whose Kashmir-based 313 Brigade is an operational arm of al-Qaida. The message warns of potential attacks on the Hockey World Cup, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi later this year.
“We warn the international community not to send their people to the 2010 Hockey World Cup, IPL and Commonwealth Games. Nor should their people visit India -- if they do, they will be responsible for the consequences,” Asia Times Online quoted a translated message as saying.
The message was not verified, but Asia Times Online said it had interviewed the leader of the group in October.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday that Australian authorities were in the “closest possible” contact with their Indian counterparts over the threats.
“Indian authorities have pledged to implement strong security procedures for all upcoming sporting events in India,” he said. “We, however, will be following this very, very closely.”
The Australian men’s field hockey team will have an armed guard throughout the World Cup according to local media, but national coach Ric Charlesworth was quoted as saying he was not overly concerned at the threat.
“There are people who know better than us who are looking at these things closely,” he said.
The field hockey World Cup is due to run from Feb. 28 to March 13.
Hockey New Zealand chief executive Hillary Poole said the New Zealand team would attend the tournament, although its departure for India would be delayed.
The New Zealand team was due to leave for India on Feb. 22, but Poole said players would remain in Perth, Australia until further notice. New Zealand is due to play Australia in matches on Wednesday and Friday.
“We have been monitoring this situation all along. But the events over the past 24 hours have led us to reassess the situation,” Mr. Poole said.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said officials are monitoring the situation closely and working closely with Indian authorities.
“We are not in a position to assess whether that threat is real or not,” he said. “The decision whether to travel or not ultimately rests with the sporting team. We wouldn’t stop a sporting team going, but it’s important we are able to give them the best information possible so that they can assess that.”
The New Zealand Olympic Committee, which also has responsibility for the Commonwealth Games, said Wednesday it was aware of the new threat and was closely monitoring the security situation within India.
“The information we have is that the security preparations (for the Commonwealth Games) are going well and in that area the games will be very well provided for,” NZOC president Mike Stanley said.
Australian Commonwealth Games Association chief executive Perry Crosswhite said he had discussed the threats with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
“They’re looking into it, as far as the validity of it, and also the authenticity of it,” he told ABC Radio. “At this point we haven’t certainly changed anything.”
The head of the New Zealand Cricket Players Association, Heath Mills, said the al-Qaida warning raised questions about the security of sporting events in India, including the IPL.
“This was already a very serious issue, but in the light of recent developments, I think it must cast doubt on whether the events will even go ahead,” Mr. Mills said.
Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive Paul Marsh agreed the threat level in India had escalated.
“We’ve gone from a situation where the threat levels in India have been concerning in recent times, but now your looking at a probably legitimate, direct threat against the event,” he said.
Australia’s foreign affairs department said it was assessing the reported threat.
“At this stage we have no immediate plans to amend our travel advice for India,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
New Zealanders’ traveling to India have been warned to consult government travel advice.