Cricket team back home amid controversy and fears
by Melani Manel Perera
Sri Lankan Sports minister says Pakistan had assured him that all security measures would be taken and that there were no signs of possible attacks. On the island nation various political parties accuse the government of ignoring Australia’s decision to stay away from Lahore. Now there are fears that the attack might be used to deny a South Asian nation the chance to organise the 2011 World Cricket Cup.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s national cricket team has returned home after a harrowing experience that has become marred in controversy. Yesterday’s terrorist attack in Lahore (Pakistan) left Sri Lankan players shaken, six wounded, by 25 long minutes of gunfire by an armed group that ambushed them on their way to the Gaddafi International Stadium.

Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge said that Pakistan had promised adequate protection and reassured the Sri Lankans that risks were low.

“I also was invited and I too was there with players last week in Karachi but there was no such” inkling of risks, the minister explained.

Despite Lokuge’s statement, critics are out in number against the government for letting the country’s national team travel to such an unsafe place as Pakistan.

Ravi Karunanayake, an MP with the United National Party (UNP), said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government must bear responsibility for putting the team in harm’s way.

What is more a pro-LTTE demonstration took place opposite the hotel where Sri Lankan players stayed in Karachi.

Arjuna Ranatunga, ex captain of the national team and currently a member of parliament, was shocked by what happened but still supports the team’s decision to play in Pakistan.

“The invitation was forwarded by the Pakistani Cricket Board” when “I was the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket,” but whilst “other countries refused to play in Sri Lanka during the 1996 World Cup, due to security concerns, it was a joint team of players from Pakistan and India that came forward to play here to allay those fears.”

Anura Kumara Dissanayake, parliamentary leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), agrees with the UNP lawmaker. He said that Australia refused to play in Pakistan for security reasons and had warned the Sri Lankan cricket authorities about the dangers of playing in Lahore.

In light of the attack that eight killed people, the JVP leader demanded to know who made the decision to play at a venue considered dangerous for the Australians but not for Sri Lanka’s national team.

In the meantime the team and its players are getting messages of solidarity from around the cricket- playing world.

But Arjuna Ranatunga is concerned that Western teams might take advantage of the Lahore attack to prevent a South Asian nation from hosting the 2011 World Cricket Cup.