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|Pak safe for athletes, but not cricketers|
Friday, February 13 2004 13:21 Hrs (IST)
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) confirmed it will send a 400-stong contingent for the South Asian Federation Games in Pakistan's capital Islamabad from March 29 to April 7.
A team of blind cricketers will leave for Lahore by road next Wednesday to play five matches against their Pakistani counterparts who won the World Cup for the blind in India last December.
But there are growing doubts about India's first Test tour of Pakistan in almost 15 years going ahead as scheduled because the Indian Government wants it postponed until after general elections in April-May.
India were due to play three Tests and five One-day Internationals on their first full tour of Pakistan since 1989.
The tour, slated for March-April, was announced last October soon after the Indian Government lifted a three-year ban on bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan - but before the general elections had been declared.
The Economic Times reported in a front page story on Friday that it had been told by Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani that his ministry was against the tour for security reasons.
And Swami Chinmayanand, Advani's junior colleague at the home ministry, went on television saying the recent nuclear proliferation scandal involving Pakistani scientists had forced the Government to rethink the security of the national cricket team.
"Earlier when the tour was decided on, there was no evidence of transfer of nuclear technology. But recent happenings in Pakistan have made us rethink on the security of our players," Chinmayanand told the Hindi-language Aaj Tak channel.
IOA secretary-general Randhir Singh said India would definitely take part in the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games.
"We at the IOA have not heard anything to the contrary," Singh, a member of the International Olympic Committee, said on Friday.
"We visited Islamabad in January to oversee the arrangements for the Games and I am confident there will be no security problems."
Besides India, athletes from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan will take part in the nine-day event which includes competitions in 15 disciplines.
Jagmohan Dalmiya, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said a final decision on the Test tour will be taken after a three-member delegation returns from Pakistan next Monday.
The BCCI delegation, which includes a security expert from the home ministry, is currently visiting various venues in Pakistan to study the security and players' arrangements for the tour.
Media reports on Friday said the Government has asked the BCCI to consider fresh dates for the tour after the general elections end in May, but the prevailing hot weather then will not be conducive for cricket.
Former Test cricketers, while acknowledging that Government advice on security matters had to be followed, said they would be disappointed if the tour was cancelled.
"Politicians should stick to their own business and let cricket officials do their job," said former national coach Anshuman Gaekwad.
"The whole situation is ridiculous. The Government should have realised all this before the BCCI sent a delegation to Pakistan."
Former Test batsman Abbas Ali Baig added sarcastically: "It might not be a bad idea to hold the series during the monsoons because the matches won't happen and there won't be any results. So everyone will be happy."
PCB awaits BCCI's response, may approach ICC