Asian cricket victim of Indo-Pak tensions

Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2002, 23:53 [IST]
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Sharjah: Cricket minnows Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates have 100,000 reasons to lament the stand-off caused by India's refusal to play against Pakistan, officials said on Tuesday.

Both the UAE and Hong Kong were assured of $ 100,000 each when they qualified for the Asia Cup Limited Overs tournament by virtue of being the two top non-Test playing nations in the continent. But the Asia Cup, featuring these two teams and the big four from the region - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - shows no signs of taking place. The tournament, originally scheduled to be played in Pakistan in April in 2001, has been repeatedly shelved due to the Indian government's refusal to have cricketing ties with arch-rivals Pakistan in protest at what it calls Islamabad's support to militancy in Kashmir. With troops from both sides massing on the border in recent months, it is unlikely India will agree to play cricket against Pakistan in the near future, leaving smaller teams like Hong Kong and the UAE tearing their hair out in frustration. "Not only are our cricketers not getting a chance to play against the big players from Asia, our Boards too have been deprived of the $ 100,000 appearance fee for the Asia Cup," a cricket official from the UAE said. "We need the money to develop the game in our region." The UAE and Hong Kong ensured their place in the Asia Cup by reaching the final of the qualifying tournament, the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Trophy for non-Test playing countries, held here two years ago. "The next ACC Trophy is taking place in Singapore in July, but we still do not know the fate of the last Asia Cup," the official said. The Asian Cricket Council, headed by Pakistan's Tauqir Zia, is due to meet here over the weekend to take stock of the losses generated by the stand-off between India and Pakistan. Officials from both Hong Kong and the UAE are hoping the meeting will take up their cause and at least part of the $ 100,000 - if not the entire amount - is handed over to them. India cancelled a scheduled Test tour of Pakistan in 2000 and also declined to take part in the Asian Test Championship in 2001. India's cricket chief, Jagmohan Dalmiya, is likely to be confronted at this weekend's meeting by his Pakistani counterpart, who believes the sport is suffering in the region by the Indian government's rigid stand. "Every time India does not come to Pakistan, I lose around $ 10 million and I am not prepared to lose that kind of money," said Zia, a serving general in the Pakistani army who heads the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). "If the Indian government continues to intervene, the ACC is finished and so is the International Cricket Council's (ICC) 10-year Test program." India's cricket-crazy television audience, estimated to be around 300 million, ensures the national cricket team attracts sponsors wherever it plays. It's absence, however, generates huge losses to organisers, as both the PCB and the Sharjah-based Cricketers Benefit Fund Series (CBFS) will testify. Tournaments in Sharjah, which has hosted more One-day Internationals than any other venue in the world, invariably end up in the red when India is not taking part. The Indian government banned its national team from playing in Sharjah and other off- shore venues like Singapore and Toronto in the wake of the match-fixing scandal. The Asian Test Championship has generated little interest in India's absence, with both Pakistan and Sri Lanka struggling to fix dates for the final after both thrashed Bangladesh.

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