Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pakistan promise ‘heads of state’ security for Champions Trophy

Pakistan are willing to offer a security cover generally reserved for visiting heads of state to competing teams and officials during this September’s ICC Champions Trophy in a bid to calm down any security concerns.

A top Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) official told ‘The News’ on Wednesday that water-tight security arrangements will be made to ensure the safety of the visiting players and officials during the Champions Trophy to be held in Pakistan for the first time. The tournament is under a cloud due to the current wave of bombings in the country that forced Australia to postpone a full Test and one-day tour earlier this month.

“We are ready to offer all possible assurances to assuage any fears regarding the safety of players and officials,”
said Shafqat Nagmi, the Board’s Chief Operating Officer.
“The Champions Trophy is still more than five months away and we are hopeful that things will get better in Pakistan in the coming days. We see no reason why anybody be talking about taking the tournament away from here,”
he added.

Naghmi said that Pakistan will provide personal bodyguards and other security measures to visiting players if they expressed any security concerns.
“The players and officials will be provided with a security cover generally reserved for visiting VIPs,”
he said.

Pakistan offered similar security assurances to Cricket Australia (CA) in a bid to convince it to send the Aussies for a bilateral series here in March-April but CA decided against approving that trip on security grounds.

Their move triggered speculations that competing teams like Australia may withdraw from the Champions Trophy as well. Already, reports have suggested that Australia and New Zealand have raised security concerns over the eight-nation Champions Trophy.

Though the International Cricket Council (ICC) has made it clear that the Champions Trophy stays in Pakistan in spite of such security fears, their decision to name Sri Lanka as a back-up venue have only added fuel to speculations that it may be planning to relocate the tournament just months after the ICC Women’s World Cup qualifying event was taken out from Pakistan to South Africa when competing teams raised security issues.

However, PCB officials remain confident that the tournament will go ahead here according to schedule. Nagmi said that arrangements are being made for the successful hosting of the Champions Trophy, international cricket’s second most important tournament after the quadrennial World Cup.

“We are working on improving the infrastructure for the Champions Trophy and are in close contact with the ICC to sort out other details involved in the staging of such a mega event,”
Naghmi said.

An ICC delegation is to arrive in Pakistan today (Thursday) but Naghmi dispelled the impression that the officials will be carrying out a security inspection.
“The ICC officials are coming here to discuss the (tournament) budget and to inspect the venues and other arrangements. Any security inspection is not on their agenda,”
he said.

Naghmi said that the ICC can send its security experts at a later stage.
“But so far nothing has been discussed about such an inspection.”
Defending champions Australia are the top seeds for the Champions Trophy. They are grouped with Pakistan, India and former winners West Indies in Group A. Former champions South Africa and New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England are in Group B. The two top teams in each group after the round robin stage will qualify for the knockout semifinals.

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