August 24, 2001

Dawood was behind India's pull out from ATC: Bharti

Concerns about the safety of top cricketers was one of the main reasons behind the Government's decision not to allow the team to tour Pakistan and participate in the Asian Test Championship, Sports Minister Uma Bharti said on Friday.

"Players' safety was the primary concern behind the Government's decision not to give permission to the team to tour Pakistan," Bharti said in New Delhi.

"I don't mean to say that our players would not have been provided adequate security in Pakistan. I am sure they would have been... But with Dawood Ibrahim operating from that country and the threat perception looming large over some of the cricketers, the Government could not convince itself to allow the team to play ATC matches in Pakistan," she said.

"We are obviously concerned about our sportspersons," she added.

In an earlier decision, the Government had said it had no problems in India playing against Pakistan in multi-lateral tournaments at regular venues and the ban was restricted to bilateral series' between the two countries.

However, Bharti insisted the decision to pull out from ATC, a multi-lateral tournament involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too, and to be played at venues certified by International Cricket Council, was not a change in Government policy.

"There can be no rigid policy, especially in matters relating to sport. We have to keep reviewing our policies and decide according to the prevailing situation," she said, adding that in future tournaments the decision to play against Pakistan would be taken on a case-to-case basis.

Insisting that there was no blanket ban on playing against Pakistan, either in cricket or any other game, Bharti said, "All decisions on future tournaments would be taken keeping in mind the ground realities and this would be applicable to all the games."

"We have already cleared our participation in South Asian Federation Games (to be held in Islamabad in October) and our volleyball team had played in Pakistan sometime ago."

Stressing that cricket was an 'extra-ordinary' game, Bharti said extra caution needed to be taken in this case.

"Cricket generates maximum passion and a lot of national sentiments are attached to it, especially when India plays against Pakistan," she said.

"When innocent people are being killed by Pakistan-backed terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, we cannot be expected to go around playing cricket with them," she said.