Monday, April 19, 2010

Bombings raise Commonwealth Games worries

Bomb blasts at an Indian cricket ground have renewed safety concerns among Kiwi sports officials.

Cricket and Commonwealth Games officials are waiting for more information after two bombs exploded in Bangalore on Saturday night (NZ time), injuring 15 people.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee said today it was taking the incident seriously and would seek advice from the Government's Major Events Security Committee.

"The NZOC will take action accordingly,'' it said in a statement.

"Athlete safety remains the organization’s highest priority.''

New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan said New Zealand's tour to India in November would likely go ahead.

The security implications of the latest attack would be weighed along with other information, but there was "no real urgency'' to make a decision, he said.

"Obviously, the information around Bangalore will come through in the course of the next few days and that's something we will assess with our security advisers.''

The blasts came a day after the United States issued a new travel alert, warning that "terrorist groups may be planning attacks in India".

The bombs went off outside Chinnaswamy Stadium, where the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians were about to take the field for an Indian Premier League (IPL) match.

Three more unexploded bombs were found near the stadium last night (NZ time).

"Give us some time, we will let you know who is behind this," M.R. Pujar, a senior police officer in Bangalore, said. "But it appears that the attempt is to scare people."

A home ministry official in New Delhi said criminal gangs may have worked with a sleeper cell from a local militant group to carry out the blasts in Bangalore.

Ammonium nitrate, glycerin and nuts and bolts were used to make the bombs, a forensic science official said.

Early today, the IPL issued a press release saying the semifinals scheduled to be played in Bangalore on Wednesday and Thursday would now be held in Mumbai, which is also set to host the final on April 25.

"We are talking to police and government officials about security arrangements," IPL commissioner Lalit Modi said last night. "We are feeling quite confident.

"The incidents were assessed by local police and the IPL's security agency as being of a minor nature but they have forced our hand," Modi said in a statement.

"This decision is naturally disappointing for the people of Bangalore but has been taken with the tournament's best interests, and the interests of its many varied stakeholders, in mind."

Modi said two extra layers of security would be added outside the already heavily guarded venues for the few remaining regular-season matches and the semifinals and final.

"It will be a little inconvenient for the spectators but we're leaving no stone unturned," Modi said. "Security will be watertight"

Black Cap Ross Taylor, who plays for the Royal Challengers, and media commentator Simon Doull were caught up in Saturday night's (NZ time) attack.

Doull was on the ground when the bombs exploded.

Doull, a former Black Cap, described the blasts as bizarre and frightening.

"It was one of those sounds, while I had never heard it before, you just knew was a bomb," he said.

New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori and Black Caps team-mates Shane Bond and Brendon McCullum also play in the IPL, while former captain Stephen Fleming coaches the Chennai side.
New Zealand Cricket Players' Association chief executive Heath Mills was contacting Kiwi cricketers in India yesterday.

However, he said the attacks "came as no surprise".

He was advising players to stick with their protection officers. Thorough security checks would be carried out before the Black Caps tour in November, he said.

Mr Mills told Radio New Zealand it was a “big wake up call” for everyone involved.

''It's a big incident to be close to and it's shaken Ross Taylor up, that's for sure.''

Safety could never be completely guaranteed, despite official claims, but he hoped that any future concerns would be properly addressed.

In February, an al Qaeda threat warned teams to stay away from the Hockey World Cup, the IPL tournament and October's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Up to 200 Kiwi athletes are due to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

New Zealand Olympic Committee president Mike Stanley said his committee would get advice from the Government.

"It's a worrying development, and we're keen to know as much as we can before we take it further," he said.

If safety concerns became too great, the team would not go, but he could not say when that decision would be made.

"It could be at any time, if there was a degree of threat we felt was unacceptable."

New Zealand's High Commissioner to India, Rupert Holborow, last night said extra resources would be used for threat assessment after another "discomforting" bombing.

Holborow, speaking from Mumbai, said it was "an unwelcome development".

"This one is focused on a sports venue, which is going to be worrying," he said.

Holborow said he did not expect athletes would be given formal advice by the Government as to whether or not they should take part in the Games.

"I can't pre-judge the lead-up to the event, it will depend a lot on developments and assessments, but the normal thing is for Government to say `we have endeavoured to provide the most accurate picture we can of both threat assessment and the security response' and that should inform athletes and others as to how they want to play it," he said.

Kiwi athletes yesterday were leaving it up to officials to monitor the situation.

Wellington swimmer Gareth Kean, 18, said he trusted the Olympic committee and officials.
"I'm pretty confident, but obviously I'll take any advice that's given," he said.

Black Sticks goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex, 30, said any decisions about safety would be up to individuals.

He had traveled to India in February for the World Cup and had witnessed the security measures.

"They sort of used us as a test event for the Commonwealth Games and the general feeling was that we were comfortable in the environment they created," he said."They certainly threw a lot of manpower at security."

Meanwhile, a team of young Wellington cricketers is still preparing for a trip this month.
The Wellington under-16 boys' team is scheduled to fly to India on April 30 for a 17-day tour, that includes three games at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Players, parents and the team's managers were waiting for more information, Cricket Wellington chief executive Gavin Larsen said.

"We're working with New Zealand Cricket at the moment and just looking to secure as much appropriate information as I can over the next 24 hours."

If safety concerns became too high, the plug would be pulled on the trip, Larsen said.