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World Hockey Cup to Test India's Security for Big Sports Events

Pakistan's field hockey team has arrived in India for the sport's World Cup that begins Sunday (Feb. 28). The team bus crossed the border amid security concerns for major athletic events in India.

Just after the 18-man team crossed the border on its way to the Indian capital, Pakistani squad manager Muhammad Asif Bajwa told reporters New Delhi is a safe place to compete. He said terrorism is not just an issue for India and Pakistan.

Bajwa says the Delhi police chief and the India Hockey Federation addressed all security concerns. Thus Pakistan, he points out, was the first to decide to participate in the tournament.

The Pakistani team, along with Australia and New Zealand, had reassessed the trip to India following a purported threat by a Pakistan-based terror group.

An e-mail to Asia Times Online, said to be from the 313 brigade, linked to the militant Laskhar-e-Taiba and al-Qaida, warned foreign athletes not to compete in the hockey tournament, next month's India Premier League cricket or the Commonwealth Games, scheduled for October.

Australia's hockey team arrived early Monday. Canada and New Zealand are expected within the next day. But one of the top players from New Zealand, Simon Child, is not coming, complaining the heavy security is not the "ideal environment" for competing.

India Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai says there is "no credible threat" against any sporting events in the country. He terms the Hockey World Cup a test run for the type of security that will be implemented at the Commonwealth Games - the largest multi-sport event India will have ever hosted.

Pillai did not rule out the possibility that terror elements, during a high-profile athletic competition, might attempt to cause distraction by carrying out an attack similar to the February 13th bombing at a bakery in Pune that led to 15 deaths.

"They can have a nuisance value by doing something like the Pune blast and try to put something somewhere and try to create a scare, as such," said Pillai.

Placing special emphasis on security arrangements for October's Commonwealth Games, the home secretary, flanked by top police officials, spoke of India's long experience with ensuring the safety of visitors, noting religious gatherings that regularly attract millions of people.

But Indian government officials acknowledge competitions such as the Commonwealth Games' marathon and cycling events will be a special challenge because they will not take place in closed, controlled spaces.

Officials are declining to disclose the size of their security force for the Commonwealth Games, but revealed it will range from the Indian Air Force protecting the capital's aviation flight corridors to food tasters for athletes' meals.

The Games' are expected to attract 8,000 athletes from nearly all the British Commonwealth countries, as well as at least 100,000 visitors.