Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ACA denies ignoring Pakistan advice

Paul Marsh: "We've relied on Reg [Dickason]'s recommendations for 12 years. Reg has never let us down, so, yes, we put a lot of faith in what he has to say.".

The Australian Cricketers' Association has rejected suggestions that it ignored a comprehensive report on the security situation in Pakistan when making its decision to advise Australia's players not to tour. The ACA chief executive Paul Marsh said the organisation relied heavily on an assessment from the Australian security expert Reg Dickason, who visited Pakistan briefly in June.

But the Pakistan Cricket Board believes a more detailed and more positive report was supplied by Nicholls Steyn & Associates, the security firm engaged by the ICC, who investigated the situation in Pakistan for months. Pakistan are concerned that the ACA made its decision without taking enough note of that analysis, a claim that Marsh denied.

"Without getting into the specific details of the Nicholls-Steyn report, if you were to read that you'd probably share our concerns," Marsh said. "From a player's perspective we need to be absolutely sure that if we're recommending that players go into an environment like this that we need to be comfortable that they're going to be safe, and reading that report we couldn't be."

However, Marsh conceded that Dickason's advice played a large part in the ACA's decision to recommend Australian players do not visit Pakistan for next month's Champions Trophy. "We've relied on Reg's recommendations for 12 years," Marsh said. "Reg has never let us down, so, yes, we put a lot of faith in what he has to say.

"Our job is to assess whether it's safe for the players to go. We've done that and we do that through independent sources, it's not as though we just read the newspaper and make the decision."

Those newspapers have in the past few days carried stories on the resignation of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf. While Marsh said that development had not affected the ACA's decision, general terrorism concerns and the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last December remained in the back of their minds.

"There are other issues here at play," Marsh said. "The level of terrorist activity in Pakistan over this year and last year - and I could quote you some statistics that are from our perspective relatively scary - they're at play without Musharraf standing down.

"There are external threats, and you only have to go to the DFAT [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] website to be able to get a bit of a handle on that, and there are internal threats, the ability to actually secure the team. Once again we could probably point to a Benazir Bhutto situation to see whether the team could be secured."

Such comments will do nothing to diminish suggestions from Pakistan that Australia had made up their minds some time ago that they did not wish to tour. Marsh said while there was virtually nothing Pakistan could do to change the ACA's stance, he did not expect a final decision to rest with Australia's players.

"If [the ICC] decide that it will take place in Pakistan then it will I guess become Cricket Australia's decision as to whether Australia participates. If Cricket Australia make the decision to send a team, then and only then will it become a player's decision. Talk of a boycott and all of those sort of things are some way off and I don't expect that it will get to that point."