Election Conflict Puts Indian Cricket Season in Jeopardy Amid Security Concerns

Security worries are causing trouble for the planned second season of a new Indian cricket league. India's home minister says the matches cannot be played as originally scheduled because elite forces will need to provide security for national elections. The concern comes in wake of this week's attack in Lahore, Pakistan on Sri Lanka's cricket team.

Security for national polling takes precedence over sports. That is what the cabinet minister tasked with India's internal security is telling officials of the Indian Premier League, known as the IPL.  The cricket league's second season is scheduled from April 10 through May 24 in eight cities. India is to hold its first national election in five years between mid-April and mid-May.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, speaking to reporters in Hyderabad Friday called that an unacceptable conflict from the standpoint of security.

"Cricket when played in India is completely safe. Nobody need worry about playing cricket in India or the safety of anyone. All I'm saying is the dates have to be re-jigged so I can provide paramilitary forces, if necessary," he said.

IPL commissioner Lalit Modi says host cities are being shifted so as to not conflict with polling and no matches will occur when the ballots are being tabulated.  

"The day of the counting there will be no matches in any city because we want to assure that the counting is going on and there are no matches taking place on that day. Otherwise the schedule is being adjusted up and down and we will have a revised schedule out," he said.

The IPL includes star cricketers from abroad playing a faster-paced version of the game (known as 20-20), debuted last year. It has become a big financial success for its franchise holders and broadcasters airing the matches.

Indian officials say this week's suspected terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, on the Sri Lankan national cricket team, which left six policemen and a driver dead, highlights the need for reinforced security surrounding high-profile sporting events.

The Indian home minister says the Lahore attack, with gunmen carrying automatic weapons, grenades and a rocket launcher, reinforces the necessity for Pakistan to crack down hard on militants within its own borders.

"The entire terrorist infrastructure must be dismantled. If that terror infrastructure remains intact, it's like riding a tiger. And you know what happens to somebody who rides a tiger. They have to dismantle the terror infrastructure and declare zero tolerance for any kind of terrorist activity," he said.

Kevin Rudd, the prime minister of Australia, home to two officials who survived the attack, says he wants answers from Pakistan on how up to 12 men were able to carry out the 20-minute assault. Several Sri Lankan players were wounded.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan has made some arrests and says it has identified those who conducted the attacks, but is not releasing details.

Threats that curtail cricket matches have ramifications beyond the pitch as it is the most popular sport in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And to many observers cricket is what continues to give the sub-continent a common bond in the post-colonial era.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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