x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Safety must come first in IPL

Security concerns remain paramount as a vast array of international cricketers gather for this year's tournament.

Kevin Pietersen can expect the same level of security he had during England's tour of India in 2008 at the Indian Premier League.
Kevin Pietersen can expect the same level of security he had during England's tour of India in 2008 at the Indian Premier League.

Cricket's greatest show on turf gets underway this weekend with the first game in the latest Indian Premier League (IPL) being played in Mumbai. And, thankfully, most of the best cricketers in the world will be taking part in the competition despite serious concerns by foreign players over security.

Although the IPL is classed as a domestic competition it is seen as an international event and the men who control the tournament should be relieved that so many big-name overseas players are taking part. But instead they have ended up ridiculing the fear factor expressed by player groups. Associations from England, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have been working together to address concerns of their members over terror threats against the IPL, coordinated by the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA).

These organisations were right in trying to ensure that everything possible was done with regards to security, even if the manner in which they went about asking for assurances is debatable. Sunil Gavaskar, the former India captain who sits on the governing council of the IPL, fumed in a newspaper column on Sunday: "It is foolhardy to expect the security plans to be shared with players' associations for then where is the secrecy of such plans?

"We all know how some of the guys from players' associations are always just a phone call away from a media guy, so the next thing we see is that these plans are in the papers, so that apart from the general public even those wishing to cause damage to the tournament will be able to see for themselves what may be the impediments to their nefarious plans if any." Gavaskar has a point, but the IPL reacted crudely to requests for security plans by saying that they do not recognise these bodies.

Since when did the IPL earn the right to ignore a body which some of their very own participants owe allegiance to? It was sad to see that none of the international players admitted they were part of the player association and their efforts should be respected. Maybe the huge sums of money they earn through the IPL stopped them from speaking their mind. The war of words could have been avoided had the player associations decided to come down and inspect the security measures which the IPL had in place. It is here where the differences between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and FICA were illustrated.

One just hopes that this IPL is incident free. The Indian government has guaranteed that they would leave nothing to chance. Let's hope so. Apprehension among players is only natural. Last year the competition was moved to South Africa as a clash with Indian elections meant some security services were not available. Touring journalists will tell you that not everything is watertight when it comes to security no matter how much it is discussed. It will be interesting to see what the police in cities where games are played will do in places like hotel lobbies where fans can be uncontrollable and anybody can sneak in?

A hotel lobby should be as private as the floors of the rooms, which are generally well protected. At the same time, it is not a good feeling for a player to have a security guard outside his door so it is a matter of striking the right kind balance. It is always annoying to see how security men make life miserable for the press even though they have a job to do at the stadium. The media are always outnumbered by fans who make their way near the playing area when they are not supposed to be there. One shudders to think what would happen if even one of those so-called fans have evil intentions on their minds.

Apart from the Lahore terrorist attacks last year, cricketers have never been targeted, but that does not mean things will stay that way forever. Caution must be executed at all times. Pitch invasions are an issue and security is heightened when the players return to the pitch for the presentation ceremony. It's high time presentations were made indoors. The sponsors will still get their exposure and the players will feel safer than ever.

This safety-first measure will come at a price, a small price of less officials being seen on TV at presentations. In Indian cricket's world of pomp and show, this is unlikely to happen. Clayton Murzello is the Group Sports Editor of the Indian newspaper Midday @Email:sports@thenational.ae