S. Asian Tensions Trickle Down to Cricket

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 13, 2008

NEW DELHI, Dec. 12 -- Escalating tensions between India and Pakistan after the recent Mumbai attacks appeared to cast a shadow Friday on cricket matches scheduled for next month.

India's sports minister, M.S. Gill, said the Indian cricket team's planned tour of Pakistan should not proceed when "people from their soil were indulging in mass murder in India," fueling the war of words between the nuclear-armed rivals.

"I have played cricket and am familiar with the spirit of the game," Gill told the Press Trust of India news agency. "How is it possible for one team to arrive in Mumbai and indulge in mass murder and have another team go and play cricket in the winter afternoon sun at Lahore immediately after?"

Gill said, however, that the Indian government as a whole would make the final decision on the tour.

Rajiv Shukla, a lawmaker and vice president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, told reporters Friday: "We respect what the sports minister has said. Whatever the government would suggest, we would go by that."

Ten gunmen laid siege to India's financial capital last month, killing more than 170 people, including six Americans, and injuring more than 230. India has blamed the outlawed Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-i-Taiba for engineering the attacks and has called on Pakistan to crack down on groups that foment terror against India.

In the past four days, Pakistan has detained several suspects implicated in the carnage and has offered to investigate the incident jointly with India.

Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte arrived in India on Friday to discuss the fallout from the attacks with senior officials, a day after he urged Pakistan to "do more" against terrorist groups. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is scheduled to visit New Delhi on Sunday.

The Indian cricket team is set to visit Pakistan for a five-week tour beginning Jan. 4, with matches to be held in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan. The chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Ijaz Butt, is in India to discuss the tour with cricket officials here.

Not everybody in India agrees with Gill. Suresh Kalmadi, the president of the Indian Olympic Association and a member of Parliament, told reporters in New Delhi that the current tensions should not affect sports.

"Sporting ties should be retained with Pakistan and all other neighboring countries," he said, adding that the decision should be made after a security assessment.

Indian news media reported in late November that at least two senior Indian cricketers had expressed reluctance to tour Pakistan because of the attacks.

This week, former cricket star Sunil Gavaskar told CNN-IBN news, "I think under the present circumstances, when at the highest political and diplomatic level there has been a fallout because of what has happened, I think cricket would not be an exception."

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