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Will the IPL survive Lahore attack?

March 04, 2009 11:46 IST
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The Lahore attack on Sri Lankan cricketers appears set to take a toll on Indian cricket.

While the Sri Lankan cricketers targeted by terrorists as they entered the gates of the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore Tuesday March 3 escaped with minor injuries, the bullets of the attackers hit, perhaps fatally, a larger target.

For the first time since the Munich Olympics of 1972, terrorists singled out sportspeople as targets. And in doing so, shredded forever the belief that even the most nihilistic would leave sports out of the ambit of their murderous ideologies.

The immediate result is the widespread perception that sporting events are soft targets in the crosshairs of terrorists -- and that paradigm shift occurs on the eve of the second edition of the cash-rich Indian Premier League.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's reaction is instructive: He has informed the IPL organizers that the security apparatus will be stretched to impossible levels to provide cover for the upcoming general elections and the IPL both, and asked that the premier T20 tournament be rescheduled.

"It will be difficult to provide adequate paramilitary forces for election and security for the cricket matches," Chidambaram said.

IPL chief Lalit Modi has said the security of the tournament is in good hands, and that he anticipates no need for re-scheduling besides mildly tweaking the schedule to ensure that there are no matches on polling days.

However, Modi's sanguine statement misses a crucial point: international cricketers are, in the aftermath of Lahore, reluctant to travel to the subcontinent. There is a spreading belief that cricketers could be terrorist targets not just on Pakistan soil, but anywhere in the region.

Former England Duncan Fletcher fired the first salvo when he said England cricketers must rethink their IPL involvement.

'The traffic is often so bad in the big cities where a lot of the cricket is played that the coach can move along only slowly at times, which turns it into a sitting duck for terrorists. There's nothing stopping a tuk-tuk pulling up alongside and detonating a bomb. I would be very nervous because that kind of attack is much easier to carry out in India -- and these guys can attack when they like,' he wrote in his column in the Guardian.

This perception puts the IPL organizers in a fix. To allay the fears of the international community, they need to postpone the tournament until after the elections, when the state is in a position to free up its security apparatus to provide heightened cover.

However, such a postponement will effectively kill the second edition of the tournament, because there is no alternate window in the ICC's Future Tours Program into which the postponed tournament can be slotted. And a failure to hold the tournament will result in losses to the BCCI in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Modi's response, that security will be adequate, is hardly likely to convince foreign governments -- more so when Minister Chidambaram expresses doubts.

So what next? Should the government, in the interests of security, insist that the IPL not be held on schedule? Should IPL chief Lalit Modi postpone the tournament to a more conducive moment? Can he?

Tell us your thoughts.

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