Recent history of cricket and terrorism

Pakistani policemen outside The National Stadium after masked gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009.
The ambush by up to a dozen gunmen of a bus carrying members of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore is the realization of fears long held by the sport’s leading players.

The Sri Lankan team had agreed to tour Pakistan after India pulled out in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November when more than 160 people died in a three-day siege. The England team was in India — but not in Mumbai — during the attacks and promptly cut their tour short and returned home. In September 2008, Cricket Australia decided to push ahead with a tour of India despite a series of bomb attacks in the country’s capital New Delhi. In March of the same year, they had pulled out of a tour of Pakistan after a spate of suicide bombings. Before that, the Australian team had not played in Pakistan for 10 years. Such was the concern about the security risks presented to players in Pakistan that in August 2008 the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the biennial Champions Trophy would be postponed until October 2009.

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The ICC announced last month that it was investigating other venues after three countries — England, New Zealand and Australia — expressed reservations about touring Pakistan. South Africa pulled out of the 2008 competition citing security concerns. Long before that, in 2002, a suicide bomb blast outside the New Zealand team’s hotel prompted them to pack up and abandon the second Test series in Pakistan. The explosion injured the team physiotherapist and killed 11 French navy experts as well as two Pakistanis. The previous year, the New Zealand team cancelled a scheduled tour of Pakistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the U.S. Most of the team stayed on to play, though under increased security, when a suicide attack closed Colombo’s international airport in July 2001. In February 1996, Australia and the West Indies refused to play in preliminary World Cup matches in Sri Lanka after a huge bomb blast killed 80 people and injured 1,200 in Colombo.

In November 1992, also in Colombo, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside a hotel where the New Zealand team was having breakfast, killing four people. Five players and the coach were allowed to return home on compassionate grounds. Five years earlier, in April 1987, the New Zealand team cut short a three-test tour of Sri Lanka after a car bomb killed 100 people at a bus station in Colombo.