A New Zealand cricket team announced it was abandoning its tour of Pakistan, citing security concerns Friday, the day it was supposed to have its first match.
“Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisers on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour,” a press statement from the New Zealand cricket team said.
Pakistani officials reacted strongly, calling the decision “unilateral” and a conspiracy against Pakistan’s image.
“None of our various intelligence agencies had received any indication of a security threat,” said Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.
He added that Pakistan had offered to hold the matches without spectators, but the offer was rejected.
Pakistani Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi said he was “appalled” at the decision.
“Sadly, global politics has won over the great game of cricket! There were no security threats! @jacindaardern,” he said, tagging the New Zealand prime minister in his tweet.
Prime Minister Imran Khan personally called Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to guarantee the team’s safety, but she stood by her team’s decision, according to Ahmed and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
The PCB said it had arranged “fool proof security” for the visiting team and New Zealand security officials had been satisfied with their arrangements.
“[C]ricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world will be disappointed by this last-minute withdrawal,” the board said.
The chief executive of the Black Caps, David White, said he could not ignore the advice he was receiving.
“I understand this will be a blow for the PCB, who have been wonderful hosts, but player safety is paramount, and we believe this is the only responsible option,” he said.
The two sides were to play three one-day matches in Rawalpindi, known as the twin city of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, followed by a series of five limited over matches or T-20s in Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore.
The chief executive of the PCB, Wasim Khan, told VOA the New Zealand team would head home Saturday on a chartered plane.
An English cricket team was scheduled to visit Pakistan in October, but Interior Minister Ahmed said that tour also was now in doubt.
“Ministry of Interior has informed me that the English team is also thinking along the same lines. On our part, we are ready to welcome them. There is no security threat in our country to either New Zealand or England,” he said.
International cricket teams stopped visiting Pakistan after an attack on a Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 in Lahore that wounded seven members of the team.
Pakistan went through several years of violence starting approximately in 2007 as extremist groups blaming Pakistan for siding with the United States in its war on terror started attacking both its security forces and civilians.
Pakistani officials claim up to 80,000 of their citizens died in these attacks, and the country suffered up to $150 billion worth of damage to its economy.
In 2016, Pakistani cricket authorities formed the Pakistan Super League, six cricket teams representing six cities. The teams included international players in an effort to revive international cricket in Pakistan. The first two seasons of the league were played outside Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
The first international team to return to Pakistan was Zimbabwe in 2015.