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March 31, 2009
Terrorism puts a damper on South Asian cricket sport

Cricket is wildly popular in India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries, where there are 24-hour cricket channels and games in the street.

But security threats have put a damper on the sport in recent months, starting with the terrorist attack on Mumbai, which led some to doubt the safety of holding cricket matches in India. Recently, organizers of the Indian Premier League — a massive tournament scheduled to begin on April 10 — announced that the competition would be moved from India to South Africa due to security concerns.

Tensions mounted further when terrorists ambushed a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan in early March. Six police officers and a driver died.

Martin Sieff is a defense industry editor for United Press International. He writes at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to explore the fate of the sport and argue that cricket is much more than a game.

The Game Of Civilization

Cricket is popular across South Asia and Africa.

The Taliban may be gaining strength in Afghanistan, but the national cricket team still departed last week to play in the Cricket World Cup. Islamist terrorists in Pakistan tried to massacre the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3. The team all survived, although several were injured, but five policemen died protecting them.

Cricket has become a target of terrorists across South and Central Asia, and not just Islamist ones either. In 1992, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew himself up in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, outside a hotel where the visiting New Zealand cricket team was staying. India and Pakistan, which together account for almost one fifth of the world’s population, have been bitter enemies for more than 60 years, and now both are armed with nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to carry them. But their 1.2 billion people agree on one thing: Their passion for cricket.

Cricket in India is a $2 billion a year business, “Time” magazine reported last week. The Indian Premier League had its first season last year, and it was a huge success. The new season will start on April 10.The best players in the world from countries as diverse as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and the West Indies will all be playing. The crowds may well be even bigger than last year.

A cricket game.

For cricket is one of the most profound, successful, benign, and popular legacies of the British Empire that ruled up to a quarter of the globe until only half a century or so ago. Wherever the British went, they took cricket with them, and everywhere they left it has flourished.

Americans are passionate about basketball and the National Football League. Europeans and the countries of South America feel that way about soccer. But all across Africa and South Asia, as well as the old dominions of the British Empire like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, cricket is the game of summer and boyhood, the annual rite of innocence and joy, the magic key into the Garden of Eden.

It’s much more than that. If a Nobel Peace prize could be awarded to a game, cricket should win the first one.

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