July 13, 2010

Never forget Lahore

Paul Farbrace
In March last year, terrorists hit at cricket. One of those who was at the receiving end tells of a new initiative to take a stand against those who would destroy fans' love of the game

In 2009 I was doing what I love most, working as a cricket coach. I had been recruited two years earlier to serve as Trevor Bayliss' assistant with the Sri Lankan team, and on March 3 that year we were in Lahore, two days into a Test match that, thanks to Thilan Samaraweera's double-century, we had an excellent chance of winning.

On the bus to the ground that morning, I recall sitting three seats back on the left, behind our spinner Ajantha Mendis and just in front of our new opening batsman Tharanga Paranavitana. As we approached the Liberty Roundabout on the road from Gulberg, a sound like exploding popcorn rang through the air, immediately followed by Tillakaratne Dilshan yelling "Get down, get down!"

At that moment I had no reason to believe we were in the midst of a terrorist attack. I just thought we had encountered some disturbance on the street. But as I wrapped myself around the seat in front of me in an instinctive bid for cover, I felt a thud in my right arm, and saw a piece of shrapnel sticking out of it, with blood pouring everywhere.

From that moment onwards, time stood still, and the images of that day will remain with me forever. Six Pakistani police officers and two members of the public were killed in the attack, which was perpetrated by 12 gunmen. It was a tragedy for the families and friends of the people who lost their lives. It was also a terrible day for cricket.

Today, Pakistan play a "home" Test, but the match against Australia will take place at Lord's not in Lahore. As a result of the 2009 attack, Pakistan's fans have been robbed of the right to watch international cricket in their own country, even though it's a sport that unites people right across the continent.

I hope one day that the game can return, because Pakistan is one of the greatest cricket-playing nations on earth, and it is such a shame that the young people of the country will be unable to watch their heroes at close quarters. Sport is a means to bring strangers together, whether it's a local football team or an international cricket team, but sadly it is increasingly becoming a target of terror.

In January this year I watched the news with horror as Togo withdrew from the Africa Cup of Nations following an attack on the team. The goalkeeper, bus driver and two staff members were all killed when gunmen opened fire as the team crossed the border into Angola. My heart went out to the players, staff and their family and friends. It also went out to all those football fans who would no longer be able to see their country take part in the most important football competition in Africa.

Fans around the world are united by their love of sport. Whether it's cricket, football, hockey or athletics; Sri Lanka, England, South Africa, Pakistan or Australia. A love of the game unites us, irrespective of the team we support. The attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team shocked cricket fans around the world, just as the attacks at the Africa Cup of Nations did nearly one year later.

That's why I am supporting Not In My Game, which is being launched to take a stand against terrorism aimed at sport. Not In My Game is a way for fans everywhere, from every country, every faith and every sport, to come together and say that whether at a street cricket match or at the world's largest stadium, there is no place for terrorism in sport.

Over the summer Not In My Game is organising community cricket matches across the UK, ensuring cricket continues to be played wherever and whenever possible. Anyone can take part: community groups, businesses, schools, sports clubs, families and friends. The games are taking place in cricket clubs, parks and streets across the country. Through these matches we are hoping to bring communities and sports fans together to take a stand against terrorism. Google "not in my game" or visit www.notinmygame.com to find out how you can get involved.

I was lucky. I will always be extremely grateful to the police who risked everything to save our lives. The poor guy driving the minibus, Zafar Khan, was not lucky. He was killed just for doing his job. Terrorism is indiscriminate. It threatens all sports fans, irrespective of which team they support or what country they come from.

When people hear about a bomb going off in a mosque in Lahore or Karachi, it's all too easy to think, "Well, it's not in London, so I can gloss over it." But we all need to realise that terrorism has a massive impact on every one of us, and not just when people we know and care about are caught up in it.

The vast majority of people in Pakistan - including those good men and women who looked after us after the attack and made us feel safe - have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. They want international sport to return to their country, and in many cases, they crave the escape it provides to get them through the tough times.

I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The media spotlight fell on us that day because of our high profile as international sportsmen, but not enough attention was given to those people who died, and those who continue to be affected by such a terrible event. But when Pakistan take on Australia at Lord's, it will serve as a vivid reminder that terrorism has currently got the upper hand, and this cannot be allowed to continue.

Join Not In My Game to clearly say that we will not stand by and let terrorists destroy our love of the game. Terrorism is bad for cricket, bad for sport and bad for our communities. For more information, visit www.notinmygame.com

Paul Farbrace served as Sri Lanka's assistant coach between 2007 and 2009

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