USACA expresses safety concerns for Uganda tour
USA Cricket Association administrators have expressed worries over possible safety and security risks posed by the country's scheduled tour to Uganda in late October for ICC World Cricket League Division Three. In an email to the USACA board, treasurer John Thickett cited a US state department advisory from February which rates Uganda as a "high threat for terrorism."
Despite that advisory, there has been no directive from the state department to avoid travel to Uganda as compared to warnings issued for some other countries recently. A USACA board member also told ESPNcricinfo that Thickett's concerns are shared by other members of the board. At the moment, USACA has not made any plans to cancel USA's participation in the tournament, but a board meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday where the Uganda security issue and overall team preparation is expected to be formally discussed. Prior to the internal USACA discussions, the ICC had sent an email earlier in the month to all participating teams in an attempt to ease safety concerns.
"The email we got from the ICC was kind of vague," the USACA board member said. "They said, 'Generally speaking, there are currently no major concerns identified or any specific threats to the tournament'. During last weekend's meeting in Florida, the secretary mentioned the email from the ICC and that they said 'generally speaking' and it is what it is. They're not overly concerned and there's no talk of moving the tournament right now."
The board member stated that multiple players had brought up the issue with him to express some reservations about going on tour. However, no players have explicitly stated that they are withdrawing themselves from consideration for the tour over security or health concerns related to heightened fears about contracting the Ebola virus. The current Ebola virus outbreak is centered in West Africa but the US Centers for Disease Control documented a smaller outbreak in Uganda as recently as 2012.
"Some of the players are concerned about the Ebola crisis out there and also about attacks on US citizens," the board member said. "So that would be something we have to be concerned about. Once our players are out there representing the United States, we have to be extra careful. There are concerns about being a representative of the United States and what's going on in that part of the world. If and when we go there, we have to at least guarantee some safety. The ICC has to tell us that the country itself has to make sure that they provide some safety mechanism to show that the players are safe at all times."
The most recent terrorist attack in Uganda occurred more than four years ago on July 11, 2010 when a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant in the capital city of Kampala were bombed, killing 76 people including one US citizen according to the state department web site.
USACA's concerns are not just focused on Uganda but also the proximity to threats in border countries such as Kenya, where the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi last September by Al-Qaeda affiliate group Al-Shabaab resulted in the deaths of 67 people, including four terrorists.
"Any US national team could become a target, but we are the US cricket team not a US Olympic team," said one player at last weekend's USACA T20 National Championship. "(Barack) Obama doesn't know who we are. With a lower profile, who knows what kind of security we would get."
The USA team has been offered increased security on previous tours. In February 2010, USA received military and police escorts to all training sessions and matches while on tour in the UAE ahead of their highly anticipated maiden encounter against Afghanistan in the World T20 Qualifier. USA also received police escorts later in the month on tour in Nepal for ICC WCL Division Five. Although there was an infamous crowd riot during USA's group-stage match against Nepal in Kathmandu, there were no serious incidents which directly targeted the USA squad in the UAE and Nepal.
The USACA board member also said that he had fielded calls from local constituents who felt any proposal to call off the tour over player safety was a cynical attempt to avoid accruing more debts related to the cost of touring. While the board member conceded that international tours can cost between $80-100,000 for USACA and that the national governing body is "in bad shape financially", he and another source shot down any theory that USACA would cancel an ICC tour over costs.
"USACA has been in debt for years," the source said. "USACA has not stopped any USA team from participating in ICC events in the past due to financial problems. An U-17 team was sent to Bermuda this week for an ICC event and we just held the T20 national tournament in spite of our financial problems. As long as safety is not an issue, we are preparing as though we will be sending a team to Uganda."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna