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Cricket & terror: the security challenges

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REINFORCED REASSURANCE: In the wake of the current security situation, organisers of major cricket events in India need to augment the protection to players and fans so that stars like Steve Harmison (left) and Kevin Pietersen (boarding the bus) have no fear touring.
REINFORCED REASSURANCE: In the wake of the current security situation, organisers of major cricket events in India need to augment the protection to players and fans so that stars like Steve Harmison (left) and Kevin Pietersen (boarding the bus) have no fear touring.

R.K. Raghavan

The Mumbai tragedy has cast its shadow on international cricket.

The mandarins of Indian cricket were smug in the belief that terrorism was purely a problem of the Pakistani Cricket Board. Now, ‘26/11’ has changed it all.

Shedding its ego and pride, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has given up two One Day Internationals against the Englishmen, and opted for a change in the venue of the second Test match with England from Mumbai to Chennai. This may be a windfall for cricket-starved Chennai.

But, then, there is speculation that Pietersen and his men, after going back in the next few days at the end of their ODI commitments, may not come back for the two-Test series because of the fear generated. There is confusion about the immediate future.

Situation not normal

A group within the BCCI is pretending that everything is normal and that the cricket calendar need not be greatly altered. They are being insensitive to a national calamity. Obviously, they are swayed by the losses the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Board might suffer in giving up the two Tests and the Champions League Twenty20 tournament.

I hope that wiser counsel will prevail and that the BCCI will not stage any of these matches until the situation returns to normal. Otherwise it could be accused of venality. The Ranji Trophy matches alone can be allowed to go on: they are low-profile events.

In the aftermath of Mumbai, the chief concern is to protect international cricket from the uncertainties arising from terrorism. The terrorist is unpredictable, and does not respect geography or nationality. You will have to factor this into your planning.

Except Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa, the other six cricketing nations are vulnerable to terrorism or similar disorder. England is of the lowest cause for concern, although it has had its share of terrorism. Zimbabwe’s law and order scene is fragile.

Security standards

In view of their contiguity, cricket officials of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka need to meet to arrive at acceptable standards of security at cricket venues and at hotels where players are put up. Without such cooperation, security arrangements can be suspect. The ICC has a few experts in its ranks who can play a vital role in this.

The worry is how Pakistani and Indian cricket officials are going to sit at the same table in the context of Mumbai. Cricket is not played in a vacuum but in an ambience of politics and trends in international relations.

Certain Bangladesh-based fundamentalist groups also have Al-Qaeda links, and these have come to adverse notice vis-À-vis India. These political undercurrents militate against the ICC and the BCCI arriving at a consensus with regard to protection to players.

The need of the hour is not only tight security at the grounds but careful choice of venues. The BCCI has been playing populist politics. On paper it seems to be a good idea to take cricket to unconventional places. However, such a strategy exposes cricketers to risks because of divergent standards of arrangement and quality of law enforcement. In some States, the police forces are not exactly known for their professional skills.

Expensive but essential

Security does not come cheap. It is becoming more and more sophisticated and therefore more and more expensive. Fortunately, the BCCI has enough money to spend. We expect it to not to compromise on the scale of arrangements on considerations of cost. Employing full-time security professionals and extending adequate cover to players like Sachin Tendulkar even at their homes should receive care.

Fundamental, of course, is strict access control to dressing rooms and hotel rooms. The Oval has a permanent space for a control room for the Met. Can the BCCI make a similar provision at least in the major venues? It will help infuse confidence in foreign teams. A full-time chief security officer could guide the BCCI in what has become a specialised discipline.

There is nothing like 100 per cent security. When foreign cricket organisations demand an assurance, we can only tell them we have done all that is possible in terms of access control at hotels and stadiums and players’ travel. Beyond this there can be no guarantee even in the best of times. In saying so, I concede that there cannot be a permanent freeze of international cricket. Only a suspension for a short period like the present one in India is feasible and warranted.

(The writer is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and a former umpire of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association.)

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