No normal sport in abnormal society!

2009 Apr 20 by Suresh Menon

From the moment the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in Lahore, Pakistan's chances of hosting the World Cup dropped to virtually zero.

'No normal sport in an abnormal society.' This was the rallying cry of the South African Council on Sport over three decades ago. And although it was with reference to apartheid, the slogan can be applied universally. To Zimbabwe, which practices a form of apartheid in reverse in cricket, and to Pakistan, a major cricketing country on the verge of collapse. When the International Cricket Council decided that Pakistan would be denied the World Cup 2011 - a tournament they were to host with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - neither the anger nor the shock in Pakistan could take away from the inevitability of such a move.

From the moment the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in Lahore, Pakistan's chances of hosting the World Cup dropped to virtually zero. Touring teams in the past had been in danger of becoming collateral damage when the hotels they were staying in were bombed, but this was a direct attack, and there was no ambiguity over the intent.

The ICC decision was sad, but unavoidable. The national coach, Intikhab Alam can call it "unjust", another national icon, Zaheer Abbas can call for a boycott of the World Cup, but the fact is that there can be no normal sport in an abnormal society, and Pakistan's society is far from normal. And things are getting worse.

Right now the problem is one of security. But as the country slides further into lawlessness (or the law as prescribed by the Taliban), it will become a political problem - and that is not something the ICC has handled well.

To argue that the tournament is two years away and therefore the ruling is premature is specious. The venues that will now replace the ones in Pakistan need time to prepare. And it is sensible to decide early enough to avoid endless speculation and lobbying. Lahore busted the myth of the safety of cricket in the subcontinent, the myth that cricket and cricketers would never be harmed by terrorists. And cricket's biggest showpiece cannot afford to take a chance - emotion cannot be allowed to rule over practicality.

Two questions need to be asked, and consistent answers found at least in theory. First - and this is something the ICC is reportedly already working on - there is the question of compensation. To what extent will the ICC be willing to compensate Pakistan for the loss in revenue? It is not the intention of the governing body, far less that of any of the cricket-playing nations, to isolate Pakistan from world cricket. The ICC have made a mess of handling Zimbabwe, and it will take a brave man to put his money on them treating Pakistan cricket with a mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity.

Secondly, if between now and 2011, the security in the other countries worsens, will the ICC take the World Cup away from the subcontinent altogether? In two years, it is impossible to say where the ethnic violence and the government's reaction will take Sri Lanka, or how many terrorists will breach the Indian security. These are not issues that are comfortable to dwell on, but they cannot be ignored given recent events.

Pakistan is condemned to playing its cricket outside the country for a while yet. They play a one-day series against Australia starting later this month. The ICC does not see any improvement in the situation before 2011, which means you will have a generation of players with a significant record which would not have played a home international. But that's a small price to pay for safety.

The writer is a freelance journalist and author. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.