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Sharjah organisers vow to play on in India's absence - by Kuldip Lal

NEW DELHI, March 27 (AFP) - The chief organiser of cricket in Sharjah on Tuesday vowed to go ahead with next month's limited-overs tournament despite India's reluctance to take part.

"Cricket will go on in Sharjah, with two teams or three," said Abdurrehman Bukhatir, chairman of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS), which organises one-day matches in the Gulf emirate.

Bukhatir, who was in Delhi to meet government officials after India pulled out of the April 8-20 tri-series also featuring Pakistan and Sri Lanka, said he was disappointed at the attitude of Indian officials.

"With less than a fortnight to go for the tournament, no one has told us why India will not play in Sharjah," Bukhatir told AFP in an interview.

"The ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to India accompanied me to meet foreign ministry officials, but we were not given any reason for the Indian government's decison.

"If it is because of Pakistan's participation, we will accept that because it is a political thing and we can't do anything about it.

"But if it about Sharjah, as some reports suggest, we have a right to know the reason. It's not fair to keep us in the dark about something that concerns us directly."

High-level sources in the Indian home ministry told Star TV on Monday that the cricket team had been asked to pull out of the Sharjah tournament -- but not because Pakistan were also playing.

"Intelligence reports say that the cricket played in Sharjah has connections with the underworld," Star TV quoted the sources as saying.

Bukhatir, whose organisation has hosted more one-dayers (167) than any other venue in the world, said he was disturbed by such reports.

"If the Indian government is worried about the security of players, they should inform the UAE counterparts for that is a very serious issue," he said.

"Our ambassador kept asking what the problem was, but he got no reply.

"This is sending out wrong signals to the large expatriate population in the Gulf, who will believe that they are not safe there.

"The UAE is one of the safest places in the world, which will not spare anyone indulging in shady activities."

Bukhatir said it was not fair to accuse the CBFS of match-fixing or hobnobbing with bookmakers.

"We have never done that," he said. "If investigations show that some games have been fixed in certain parts of the world, the organisers cannot be blamed.

"They should catch the bookies or the players who are the culprits. Let India make a complaint to the UAE about this and I am confident the concerned authorities will take suitable action."

Former Pakistani captain Asif Iqbal, who works as a CBFS co-ordinator, has been accused in various match-fixing probes of being a conduit of bookmakers.

"If Asif is guilty in any way, he would have been arrested by the police in the UAE long ago. But no one has complained yet.

Bukhatir revealed that the International Cricket Council had decided to move the 2002 knock-out tournament from India to Australia because of the current crisis.

"The future of cricket lay in Asia but we are giving it away on a platter," Bukhatir said.

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