August 26, 2008

The security excuse

If players' pay has ceased to be an issue to agitate about, conditions have not. At any rate, in the wake of 9/11, security is the new God before whom all must bow, and cricket is no exception

Swaddled in security: South Africa on their visit to Pakistan in 2007 © AFP

In western countries, no word has become such an excuse for the absurd in the last ten years as "security". Every politician is pledged to increase it. Every general and police chief thinks this an excellent idea; every media organisation assents. Every airport is choked with dopy, leering layabouts in uniform forcing passengers to surrender their belts and shoes as they pass through X-ray machines - an annoyance about which there is a remarkable forbearance, even though the inattention is such that you could probably smuggle a howitzer through while these knuckleheads are scrutinising laptops.

One man's threat being another's opportunity, a flourishing class has emerged of high-end, hi-tech professionals to appease the post 9/11 conviction that too much security is never enough. And no member of this class ever got rich underplaying security risk, saying: "Stop being paranoid. What are you worried about?" If anything, the ability to identify small risks and perceive their potential for bigness is a badge of professional distinction. And their advice is readily accepted by administrations and organisations that wish to perceive themselves as doing the right thing by their representatives.

This template may not fit precisely the circumstances of the Champions Trophy's postponment. A country where the Kalashnikov seems less a weapon than a fashion accessory is a potentially confronting environment at the best of times. Even now, the fear is not so much that players will be a specific target of violence; it is that they only need only be in the wrong place at the wrong time to come to harm. But it is also true that the attitudes taken by Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand reflect, above all, the huge modern western discomfort with any semblance of insecurity - huge, and often daft.

Apprehensions have changed. Thirty years ago, England toured Pakistan in the wake of a military coup, and during the unruly trial of president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; 20 years ago, Australia toured in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Bhutto's nemesis, General Zia ul-Haq. It is hard to believe that either tour would have taken place amid present perceptions, even if the eclipse of the discredited Musharraf by Bhutto's son-in-law promises at least a temporary respite from recent tribulations.

It is also hard to believe that exactly these same concerns will not loom just as large in a year's time, as indeed they did two years ago when Pakistan nonetheless won the right to stage the Champions Trophy. An irreducible degree of risk will attach to any cricket tour of Pakistan, as indeed to daily life itself. For as long as that pertains, Pakistan faces competing in international cricket on an essentially part-time basis, unable, like Sri Lanka in the 1980s, to host inbound tours from non-Asian competitors, at terrible cost to local cricket and its luckless, guiltless fans.

'Security concerns' have become an issue by which players' associations can demonstrate their continued relevance, by which it can be proved to cricketers that their dues still buy something

Pakistan, of course, has always been regarded as a bit of a hardship posting - unfairly, as it is a marvellous test of a touring cricketer's mettle. But just now, cricket values, as well as western values, are somewhat askew. By making players rich beyond the dreams of mammon, for example, the Indian Premier League has naturally increased their scope to discriminate between assignments. Only mouth almighty Andrew Symonds has so far had the nerve to say it, but every cricketer must feel the sensation in some degree: why tour Pakistan, where every bus backfire sounds ominous, when you can drop in on India, where too there are bombs but you can pull down seven figures in six weeks?

This risk business, too, is generating a new clientele. No longer are "security concerns" the sole prerogative of sovereign boards of control. In the matter of the Champions Trophy, at least as visible have been the CEOs of the players' associations, specifically Paul Marsh of Australia, Heath Mills of New Zealand, Tony Irish of South Africa, and Tim May of that amorphous entity, the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, who obtained their own security advice on conditions in Pakistan. Marsh was particularly uninhibited in public pronouncements, and well placed to be doing so. Relations between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association will be put to the test in the next year by the negotiation of a new memorandum of understanding; there was no inclination at Jolimont to place them under premature strain.

It is sometimes overlooked that players' associations have been as unsettled by the Twenty20 revolution as boards. Their business is ensuring the best possible deal for their members, yet they can take next to no credit for cricket's new multi-million-dollar milieu: it is the BCCI that has proven the players' great benefactor. But if pay has ceased to be an issue on which associations can mount a case for their existence, then conditions have not. There is little scope in cricket any longer for the bare-knuckled, table-banging shop steward; there remain opportunities for the hard-hat-wearing, clipboard-wielding OH&S man scrutinising the placement of the bollards and saying: "If you don't fix this, I'm gonna close you down." "Security concerns", then, have become an issue by which players' associations can demonstrate their continued relevance, by which it can be proved to cricketers that their dues still buy something.

For Pakistan, meanwhile, the future is bleak. "The sick man of Europe" was Tsar Nicholas I's appellation for the Ottoman Empire; the PCB has become at least the BCCI's frustratingly poorly cousin. There is no more fascinating relationship in the cricket world than that between these two countries, brought together at the ICC by mutual interests having been divided by history, culture, disputed territory and nuclear rivalry. The PCB's isolation deepens its acute reliance on BCCI patronage at a time when the BCCI might be pondering the usefulness of such a troublesome satellite, consolidating the BCCI's sphere of influence while also potentially weakening it, for not even the BCCI can afford to shrug off potentially US$90 million of penalty payments to ESPN-Star. And while security has been demonstrated to be a concern of cricketers, it is, even more so, a preoccupation of capital.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Murugesan on August 28, 2008, 20:44 GMT

    Why Pak supporters are pushing other's and complaining about double standards. It is a basic individual human right to refuse something. Refusing is an option and has very valid reasons. Refusing is not an excuse here. Well some one said Terrorists dont target players. Can that person give the lives back if some thing unfortunate happens. Dont just throw words here. Who would have thought twin towers would be attacked and taken down. You never know what is going on in a brainwashed terrorist's mind. Something bad happens everywhere sometimes. But when you see something bad is happening in pakistan on a daily basis, only a fool would think about going there and making an entertainment among the bomb blasts.

    There was no need to drag this much longer. CT should have been suspended/cancelled or postponed much earlier. I am indian and i dont think this western vs asian. It has to do with Pakistan vs Human lives. Period.

  • Salman on August 27, 2008, 7:08 GMT

    As pointed out earlier this argument could go on for a while and people on both sides have valid points. The following link takes you to what Ian Chappel has to say about the issue...i think although this may not seem too out of the box by Mr Chappal, atleast it means that the show could have gone on if what he suggests was done...

  • Gilbert on August 27, 2008, 0:11 GMT

    Show them the bloody money and they will say, 'what security, its all b...S... lets go'. That's the mentality.

  • Naveed on August 26, 2008, 23:51 GMT

    Can't help feeling that the boards are just as much at fault as the players for refusing to tour. Living in London and having seen the effect of the London bombings, can't help feeling the ECB would have argued "the show must go on." Double standards and selective facts win out again, no surprises there!

    The following quotes on this blog sum it up: "why tour Pakistan, where every bus backfire sounds ominous, when you can drop in on India, where too there are bombs but you can pull down seven figures in six weeks, " and "years back, as a cricket crazy child I was devastated when the Aussie team consisting of my all time heroes Lillee and Greg Chappell decided to cancel their tour of India in the late 70s citing unhygienic conditions."

  • Bob on August 26, 2008, 22:45 GMT

    There is currently a battle for the soul of modern Islam going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and now Pakistan. Western countries should, and by and large are, using their vast power to help the forces of moderation. Aside from being totally beyond logic, what message are these refusal to tour sending to our erswhile allies and those on the fence? That while we desire their help politically we culturally isolate them? Everyone should realise there is a pan-Islamic war in motion, and we do not abandon our allies in wartime. There is more than cricket at stake here, the show must go on.

  • Vikas on August 26, 2008, 22:21 GMT

    the chances of you being hurt in a mugging in South Africa are much higher than dying in a blast in Pakistan. Andrew Hall, Andrew Hudson - both South Africans, could not anticipate attacks on them. Of course, nobody runs away from New York, where 3000 people died in one day, or from London, where bomb scares and bombs are as common as Lahore. Of course, nobody runs away from Jaipur coz when players play purely for money then boards no longer jump in, and also coz Lalit Modi gave them the carrot and the stick. Its funny that as the First World takes on the fad of physical fitness with greater gutso, their moral and spiritual strength is getting weaker. Portentious ....

  • Ashok on August 26, 2008, 20:30 GMT

    Let us face it. Cricket is only a game played between the competing Nations. It has to be played in a friendly and peaceful environment. The environment in Pakistan is politically volatile and day to day living is dangerous even for the locals. Till this environment transforms there should be no international Cricket planned or staged in Pakistan. ICI must understand this as the basic necessity and not make it a political game of votes. In the current situation the venue should have been changed by ICI. Secondly planning the Champions' Trophy in Pakistan in 2009 is rather naive and irresponsible. The current political situation is volatile & hostile to the Westeners in Pakistan and is likely to remain so for long time. England, Australia, New Zealand, S.Africa or India appear to be obvious & acceptable choices. No western Cricketers will take chances with their personal safety for the sake of cricket. When will ICI understand this fundamental human safety issue in Post 9/11 world?

  • Aravind on August 26, 2008, 20:27 GMT

    I am an Indian, and on this issue I am with the guys who pulled out. If there is a possibility of an attack on a player, then every board has the right to keep its players away from there. It is unfair to ask players to train and perform in such conditions. Also drawing a similarity between the situation in Pakistan now to that in India, South Africa and England is just ignaorant. It is sad that Pakistan dint get to host the CT, but you have got to get your priorities right and safety and security of teams should be the first.

  • Sarosh on August 26, 2008, 20:11 GMT

    First off, I am Pakistani. Second, I live outside the country and I don't think its safe to go back for myself, so why should people who have only toured the country in short trips think its safe? The problem here is not 'western mentality', its the fact that things sometimes get blown out of proportion by the media, such as this article. This article comes in light of the recent with drawl of South Africa from the champions trophy and potentially other teams. Again, another way for someone to have hits on their article rather than rationally and logically look at what just took place. But, why do I bother. Its main stream media.

  • Imran on August 26, 2008, 19:53 GMT

    Absolutely spot on Mr. Haigh! This article is in no way criticizing Pakistan but rather reflecting on the hypocritical mindset that exists out there in the West about Pakistan and it's cricket. Some of the readers might not have appreciated or comprehended his analogy of Kalashnikovs but he did respond to this outcry and clarified his stance. The issue is indeed a very touchy subject and there is no way any writer from any region can write a completely balanced article. Fact of the matter is we will always have difference of an opinion no matter what. Some folks think that security concerns are genuine while others think otherwise and personally I think they are all correct in their assumptions because of where cricket stands these days in terms of popularity, money and with the advent of Pro Leagues. As a Pakistani supporter I am actually disappointed and have actually lost somewhat of an interest in the game, which might be completely gone in the near future.

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