There are a lot of security issues ahead of the regional spectacle to be held in India next February
The growing tension across the border has created serious doubts over Pakistan’s participation in the South Asian Games which are penciled in for February 6-16 in the Indian cities of Guwahati and Shillong. The harsh stance of extremist Shiv Sena party about Pakistan has added to the complications.
Not only was the International Cricket Council (ICC) forced to withdraw Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar from the India-South Africa One-day series but the meeting of the bosses of the Indian cricket board (BCCI) and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was also cancelled with the PCB chief Shaharyar Khan utterly humiliated during his controversial visit to New Delhi. Besides the cancellation of the literary programmes involving Pakistanis, South African leg-spinner of Pakistani origin Imran Tahir was forced to limit himself to his hotel room in Mumbai because of security fears.
This is really a depressing situation and has been sabotaging the sporting ties between the two neighbouring countries. Pakistan has started preparing for the SAG with camps of various disciplines in operation at different centres of the country.
But the uncertainty about participation may keep the national athletes double-minded. They would not be able to prepare with focus for the biennial spectacle which was due in 2012 but had to be postponed for a few times due to various reasons.
Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) is monitoring the situation keenly. The POA chief Lt Gen (retd) Arif Hasan has discussed the security issue with his Indian counterpart Narayanaswamy Ramachandran on the sidelines of the executive council meeting of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) in Washington a few days ago.
The Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) president assured the POA chief that they should not be worried about their contingent’s security during the SAG as the things have been managed.
"I raised security concerns for Pakistan’s delegation during the South Asian Games. The IOA president assured me that there should be no concerns and that they have taken care of the things," Arif told ‘The News on Sunday’ from Washington.
"However, on my insistence the IOA chief promised to call a security meeting to brief all the concerned. I also insisted on visits to all sites and venues where security persons should brief our delegation. We also desired a separate meeting with their security personnel in charge at the government level. We are in touch with them and closely monitoring the situation. On my return I will also be in touch with our ministry of IPC for future guidelines," Arif said.
Pakistan Sports Board’s (PSB) Director General Dr Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera has also shown concerns over the situation across the border.
"The current situation is quite serious. But the tension may subside any time. If the things got normal we would participate in the South Asian Games with full force," Ganjera told TNS.
Pakistan’s sports authorities may opt to send national contingent to New Delhi by road and from there the athletes could be sent to their respective destinations by air. But exercising such an option may not be that easy in the volatile situation of India.
There are around three months yet to go before the eight-nation spectacle, but the POA and the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) should sit together and devise a strategy after seeking advice from the ministry of external affairs on the issue.
If the situation prevents Pakistan from graceful participation in the slots, it will be better not to feature at all in the event.
If the tension did not decrease in a few weeks the POA would have to come forward with a demand that the event be shifted to any other country where peaceful participation of Pakistan could be ensured.
Athletes are more important than the game and their lives should not be put at risk. And an important point is that the security fears always affect the performance of the athletes. As has been said by Arif Hasan, Pakistan must send a team of security experts to India to assess what arrangements have been made for Pakistan’s contingent.
The players must be provided box security during their movement from hotel to venue and then from venue to hotel but it is always difficult when the number of players is high as would be in the South Asian Games.
According to Indian media, around 4000 athletes and officials from eight countries are expected to feature in the competitions.
Sports should not be politicised but the nature of relations between Pakistan and India is quite different. The authorities must handle the issue judiciously.