New Delhi: The International Cricket Council has put South Africa on standby as a possible Champions Trophy venue, but insists that Pakistan remains its first choice as hosts, an ICC source told AFP Friday.
The year's biggest one-day tournament featuring the top eight Test nations -- Australia, South Africa, England, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies -- is due to be held in Pakistan from Septr 11-28.
But touring Pakistan has been a security concern for several foreign teams, especially Australia which postponed its March-April visit this year after a series of suicide bomb blasts.
With Sri Lanka, the alternate venue, in the midst of heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels, the ICC has included South Africa as possible hosts.
"South Africa could hold the Champions Trophy in case Pakistan or Sri Lanka can't," the ICC source said.
"But it must be stressed that Pakistan remains our first choice and a lot of work has already been done to ensure the tournament is held there."
The northern venues of Johannesburg, Centurion and Potchefstroom will be the venues if the tournament is moved to South Africa, the source added.
A final decision on the host nation will be taken at the ICC's annual meetings which begin in Dubai on Sunday.
The ICC said earlier this month at the launch ceremony of the biennial event in Lahore that Pakistan will host the tournament -- provided there were no safety and security fears.
"At this point in time we are comfortable with the decision that Pakistan has the ability to host the Champions Trophy, but we will continue to monitor security as it is fluid," ICC official Dave Richardson said at the launch.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting has said he does not yet know if his side will travel to Pakistan and raised the prospect of individual withdrawals even if the title-holders do decide to send a team.
"We don't know if we're going. And if we do go, we don't know if individuals are going to pull out," Ponting was quoted as saying in Australian newspapers.
"It just won't be Australian players. There will be a few other teams who will be thinking long and hard if the tour does go ahead."
Pakistan officials have dismissed security concerns, hoping the ongoing Asia Cup in the country will dispel any doubts of their ability to host the Champions Trophy.
India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong are taking part in the Asia Cup, the symbol of one-day supremacy in the region.
Former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja, now a popular television commentator, hoped countries such as Australia, England and New Zealand will remain positive about touring his country.
"The reservations have come about owing to their perception," Raja was quoted as saying in the Indian media.
"I don't blame them because if you're not in Pakistan and you keep hearing and reading about blasts and chaos, then you could be influenced by all that.
"Pakistan needs everybody's support. A positive attitude from the West, so to say, would be of great help. I believe the existing political system will give Pakistan stability.
"Progressively, we're seeing a calmer Pakistan and things should get better," said Raja.