Males banned from women WC qualifiers in Pakistan
Male spectators, except those attending with family, will be banned when Pakistan hosts the eight-team Women's World Cup qualifiers in November, officials said.
But officials hailed the decision to stage the matches in this conservative Islamic republic as a sign that the country is becoming more moderate and making efforts to allow women to play sport.
The qualifiers will be played in Lahore between November 19 and 25, the ICC said in a statement from its headquarters in Dubai. Besides the hosts, teams from Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea, Bermuda, Ireland, South Africa, Scotland and the Netherlands will all vie for the two available slots in the 2009 ICC Women's World Cup.
Defending champions and hosts Australia, India, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the West Indies have all earned automatic qualification following their top-six finish in 2005 when the World Cup was held in South Africa.
"The decision proves that women's cricket is progressing in our country and through this event we would promote a softer and moderate image of Pakistan," said Shamsa Hashmi, secretary of the Pakistan Cricket Board women's wing.
Players will wear the standard international dress code, unlike earlier matches in Pakistan that have been played in the traditional uniform of baggy trousers and long shirts, she said.
But she added: "Males can come to watch only as part of families of those that are playing." Male officials may also be allowed. Pakistan held its first national women's championship two years ago and the national team toured South Africa last month, losing the five-match series 4-0. The fifth match was rained off.
Hashmi said the Pakistani team would put on its best show against some experienced opponents. Zimbabwe, making their debut, qualified from Africa, Papua New Guinea from East Asia-Pacific, Bermuda from the Americas, Scotland and the Netherlands from Europe.
The top teams have launched their preparations for the 2009 World Cup, Australia, India, England and New Zealand competing in a quadrangular series currently underway in Chennai.
Betty Timmer, chairwoman of the ICC Women's Committee, said she was delighted with the interest shown by Pakistan in hosting the qualifiers. "We are very pleased with Pakistan's involvement in the organization of the event. We are looking forward to this tournament in Lahore," said Timmer.
The 2009 World Cup will be the first to be played under the auspices of the ICC since its merger with the International Women's Cricket Council in 2005.