Sunday morning June 5, began with news of the London Terror attacks trickling in, as the day progressed horror stories kept coming in of a van mowing down unsuspecting pedestrians out on a weekend, followed by news of people being attacked with knives. The previous night, London had been hit by a terror attack that left at least seven people dead and several injured. This was the night before the much-debated India-Pak cricket match scheduled to be played in Birmingham. The debate over the match had its connections with terror, with many arguing that India should refuse to play the match with Pakistan in view of that country’s record of instigating terror in Kashmir, constant ceasefire violations at the Line of Control, attacks on army camps and the unprovoked killing of Indian soldiers and mutilation of their bodies. The debate raged on over TV Channels and Social Media but finally, the cricket-enthusiasts and BCCI won and it was decided that the match would be played in the United Kingdom just a day after the Capital of that country was rocked with terror attacks!
This being the third terror attack in the UK in three months, after the attack on the Parliament followed by the heinous strike at the Arianna Grand Concert in Manchester, the country was on high-alert.
In between, there were a few more terror-attacks that the local police claimed to have foiled. All in all, a very grave situation indicating that UK was beleaguered by the imminent threat of terror attacks. Ironically, some years back this was a situation unique to the Indian sub-continent and the Western countries frequently expressed their misgivings about the security available in these cricketing nations.
England abandoned their last two ODIs in India in 2008 in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks. At that time, Reg Dickason, England’s security advisor, comparing security arrangements in India with those in Bangladesh, had remarked that the road clearances they’d been given in Bangladesh are usually reserved for heads of state and rued that “we probably won’t get them in India”. Sounds like he was missing the days of the British Empire! Referring to the Mumbai attacks, the England team’s managing director, Hugh Morris had said “The players know this is a very real thing because they were only in one of the hotels attacked a few weeks ago.” Morris confirmed that no decision had been made about the date of their return. He added that “Any country in the world will make sure the priority they have for players and management team…is their safety and security.”
In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, the England Cricket team expressed the view that “The game of cricket is insignificant when people’s lives are at threat…it is not a safe place for visiting cricket teams to be at the moment…Can the safety of our players be guaranteed? On the basis of what we have seen in the last few hours, no.” In 2017, with the attacks in Lindon, the situation was reversed but did we hear any adverse comments from ‘security experts’ of the visiting Indian team? NO!
Again in 2010, England expressed its reservations about its IPL players taking part in that year’s tournament on the basis of “concern over terrorism threats” in Bangladesh. The Professional Cricketer’s Association was commissioned to prepare and present its findings to the English players before they decided to travel to Bangladesh. The views of the cricket team’s ‘security expert’ about whether to play in the Mumbai IPL later, were not very positive. The ‘volatile nature’ of Indian security was called the “IPL’s Achilles heel” (‘The Telegraph’ 18 Feb 2010)
Let’s contrast this with the 2017 heading “Steve Finn: England will remain defiant in face of terror attack and play to entertain” ( ‘Express’ UK, June 5, 2017) The same newspaper report quoted England’s players expressing the firm belief that “security arrangements in place for the tournament are robust enough to keep players and crowds safe.” Did anyone think of asking the other teams’ players for their opinion? The ICC ruled out any ‘drastic action’ or postponement. And it is commendable that the Indian team did not even think of cancelling or postponing the match despite the heavily-Pak populated venue!
Harbhajan Singh, Indian cricketer and team member, speaking to ‘India Today’ said that the Indian team should ask for more security in England. Despite Birmingham being on ‘red alert’, the Indian cricket team left their hotel without any escort car or decoy bus, en route to Edgbaston. As Harbhajan Singh remarked, “If the same thing had happened in India, they would have asked for a lot of security. The security should be ample for all teams, we do the same when teams visit India but here there was no one.” Clearly the hosts do not believe in practicing what they preach!
In spite of the high security and the current threat level for international terrorism in the UK being ‘Severe’ meaning an attack is ‘highly likely’, a motley group of about 30 Pakistanis settled in Birmingham came to Edgbaston Cricket Ground carrying controversial placards supporting slain terrorist Burhan Wani and demanding ‘Justice for Kashmir’. Anti-India slogans were heard from this group as the Indian team bus entered the stadium, some of them even tried to rush towards the bus. How exactly were these protestors allowed to get so close to the Indian team in spite of the much touted ‘heavy security arrangements’. Shouldn’t the local police have been better prepared considering the fact that Birmingham happens to be home to a huge number of Pakistanis? Imagine how the England team would have reacted had something of this kind taken place with them in India! This becomes particularly significant in view of the fact that one of the attackers responsible for the June 5 terror, Khuram Shazad Butt is known to have entered UK as a ‘refugee’ with his parents from Pakistan.
One wonders why the BCCI chose not to cancel the Indian team’s participation in the Champion’s Trophy in the wake of the Manchester and London Terror Attacks!
Would England have agreed to play in India, had terror attacks taken place in our country a night before the opening match?
Is the money, power and prestige involved more important than the lives of our players? The Acting Secretary of BCCI, Amit Chaudhary didn’t seem to be too concerned when he said, “Obviously these attacks are in the nature of a terrorist attack. This is something that can affect any individual on the planet.” He added that “the team’s schedule remains unchanged so far.” Should the Indian team have agreed to go on with the match despite the potential threat to players as well as spectators in a packed stadium? It’s the Indian Cricket that brings in most of the revenues for the world cricket but it’s the western countries who call the shots. Let us hope we are not suffering from the white skin is greater than brown skin syndrome