POSTED: March 3rd 2009

Sport's dangerous new horizon

Gunmen move in on the Sri Lanka team's convoy
Gunmen move in on the Sri Lanka team's convoy

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

LONDON/TAMPA: The attack by gunmen on Sri Lanka's cricketers in Lahore, Pakistan, will have sent a shiver of apprehension throughout world sport, not only cricket, over the threat posed by terrorism.

The assault on the team’s bus, as it travelled from their hotel to the Gaddafi Stadium for the third day’s play in the Second Test, resulted in the deaths of five policemen on security duty, one driver and injuries to seven players and a coach.

But the wider effect of the outrage will be a heightened fear that terrorists – acting in support of any cause, whether nationalistic, territorial, cultural or religious – are now prepared to scrap the unwritten rule that players/athletes were comparatively untouchable.

A Pakistan security spokesman said: “For all the problems with security down the years it was always thought that terrorists would not attack the players for fear of the backlash against whatever their ideology or cause. Now no-one can be sure any more. Cricket, football, athletics, who knows?”

The most notorious sport-linked terrorist event in history was the Black September assault on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich; 11 Israeli athletes were killed in a shootout at a nearby airport as the terrorists tried to make a negotiated getaway.

The contrast between the low-key, “friendly” policing of those Games up until then with the high-profile armed and uniformed security operation at football’s World Cup back in West Germany two years later in 1974 could hardly have been greater.

Security concerns

In recent years, despite the proliferation of terrorist attacks across the breadth of international society, concerns about security at major sports events has tended to focus on spectator behaviour.

This does not mean governments have not worked hard to protect events. Strict controls on even air space are activated for World Cups and Olympic Games. But the profile of anti-terror measures is likely to be racked up after the Sri Lanka cricket attack.

Pakistani officials said about 12 gunmen were involved and grenades and rocket launchers have been recovered. The incident has been compared with the terrorist attacks last November on Mumbai (Bombay) in India. Those were blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

Pakistani cricket was already suffering from security concerns. Sri Lanka’s cricketers had been invited to tour at short notice after India had pulled out of a scheduled tour on security grounds, following the Mumbai attacks.

David Morgan, president of the International Cricket Council, said: “It will be very difficult for international cricket to be hosted in Pakistan for quite some time to come".

The injured players were Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavita who both needed hospital treatment as well as Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal and Chaminda Vaas plus assistant coach Paul Farbrace.

The attackers, who employed grenades and rocket launchers, are all believed to have escaped. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack" and sent an aircraft to fly the players back to Sri Lanka immediately.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari also strongly condemned the attack, and ordered an immediate investigation "so that the perpetrators are identified and their motives exposed."

The country's participation as a co-host, along with India and Sri Lanka, of the 2011 cricket World Cup is now in extreme jeopardy.

Other sports have also moved to strike Pakistan off their competitive calendar. The Professional Squash Association has cancelled its April tour event which had been scheduled for Islamabad.

Keywords · cricket · Sri Lanka · Pakistan · Lahore · terrorism · terrorists

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