Eleven USA players unlikely to tour Uganda
At least 11 USA players have said they are likely to pull out of next month's tour to Uganda for the ICC WCL Division Three tournament. USACA has not had any formal communication with the players yet, but they spoke to ESPNcricinfo about their intent to withdraw from the tour on condition of anonymity. The rise in the number of players refusing to go follows news of a foiled terrorist plot on September 13 in Kampala that caused the US Embassy in the city to issue a 24-hour warning for all American citizens in Uganda to stay at home or seek shelter in a safe place.
As recently as September 2, three USA players said they would not go to Uganda while three more were undecided. The majority of the 16 players ESPNcricinfo spoke to at the time were in favor of touring. Later that week, USACA said it was committed to sending a team to Uganda for the tournament beginning October 26.
However, a USACA source told ESPNcricinfo that a board meeting had been called for September 18 to discuss the viability of sending a team in light of the foiled terror plot. ESPNcricinfo has also obtained a letter that was sent on September 16 by ICC global development manager Tim Anderson to all competing teams addressing renewed concerns.
"As you may be aware, a security related incident took place in Kampala, Uganda in recent days, and is now being widely reported in the international media," Anderson wrote. "I wish to advise you that ICC's security advisors are continuing to coordinate with various authorities on the ground in Kampala in order to understand the extent of this incident, and to ascertain the impact it may have on staging the event in Uganda."
Nineteen people were arrested by Uganda police over the weekend in Kampala in connection with the terror plot, according to an Associated Press report. A US Embassy spokesperson said the plot was being organised by a terror cell from al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based group behind the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya last year. A police spokesperson stated the suspects' intentions "were very, very clear" in what was the planning of an "imminent" attack.
US Embassy officials in Kampala have warned Americans to remain vigilant as other members of al-Shabaab "may still be at large in the city". The Embassy issued a warning on September 8 for Americans in the country to be on guard leading up to the anniversary of 9/11, particularly for a possible retaliatory attack after a joint military operation between USA and Uganda led to the death of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane from a US air strike in Somalia on September 1.
Rodney Ford, spokesperson for the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, told ESPNcricinfo that based on current information, the USA cricket team was not a target of the foiled plot. He also stated that no one from USACA had been in contact with the US Embassy in Kampala nor anyone else at the US State Department.
ESPNcricinfo contacted 16 USA players this week, all of whom played for the country in the last two years. Eight players are now refusing to go to Uganda in light of last weekend's events in addition to the three players who stated in an ESPNcricinfo article on September 2 that they would not tour either. In addition to these 11, another four players said they are considering pulling out and would need written assurances from USACA and ICC guaranteeing enhanced security.
"If this tour is treated like other tours in terms of security, no way will I go," one of the four told ESPNcricinfo. Another said it would depend on who else from the team pulled out and whether or not tournament organisers deemed it safe to stage the event there. "If a bunch of new guys are going and there are no senior guys, including some of my good friends on the team because they've pulled out over safety concerns, then no I won't go," the second player said.
The player also said he was disappointed but not surprised with the lack of communication from USACA, a sentiment echoed by many of the other players ESPNcricinfo spoke with. Since the conclusion of the USACA T20 National Championship on August 16, not a single player said they had received any notification from USACA regarding preparation or selection plans for ICC WCL Division Three, let alone any notification about how USACA is approaching security issues in Uganda.
"I am definitely very concerned with what is going on in Uganda," the player said. "I want to see what USACA will do. I'm very passionate about representing the USA and want to go, but if the situation is crazy then I won't go. If other countries are going and the ICC says it will be safe, then I want to go. If USACA doesn't send a team, I'll be upset if we don't go but I'll understand and support their decision because Americans are targets."
Only four out of 19 USA players polled on the issue said they were currently still 100% committed to going to Uganda, a sharp contrast to September 2 when 10 out of 16 players said they had no concerns about touring Uganda. USACA board member Krish Prasad told ESPNcricinfo last week that USACA was committed to sending a team on tour unless "something goes out of hand or we find out that the situation warrants us to not send a team."
"If a majority of players are reading and following the news because it's for their concern, safety and security, if we get 18 guys and 12 of them tell us they're not going because of these facts over safety issues … Americans are always on the target list," Prasad said. "We have to be extra careful. If something like that comes up, then obviously we have no choice but to say we can't go. We can't take the responsibility of sending guys there beyond their wishes or ignore safety, security or health issues."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna