Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ICC task force aims to convince players of Pakistan safety

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, and Brian Murgatroyd, the media and communications manager, after wrapping up their trip to Karachi.

As the ICC task force wrapped up its visit to Pakistan to assess security concerns ahead of September's Champions Trophy, its real work begins now. Members of the panel will head to Australia, New Zealand and England, where they will also meet with South Africa, in a bid to convince top players from the countries not to pull out over security concerns.

Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, admitted the next step in ensuring a top-quality tournament might not be so simple. "I think it's not easy to convince people that are feeling uncertain about something," Lorgat said in Karachi on the last leg of the task force's three-day visit. "It is a difficult task but we have to do our best and, inshallah, we will be able to convince them."

A group led by Lorgat will go to England early next week while David Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, will head meetings in New Zealand on Thursday and Australia on Friday. Tim May, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, and Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, will travel with Richardson.

David Morgan, the ICC president, will receive the results of the meetings on August 20 and make "a further assessment of the comfort levels of our participating members". "We are committed to a safe and secure event in Pakistan," Morgan said. "We believe these visits and the feedback we get from them will play a major role in us achieving those ends."

Though the ICC is satisfied with the security measures in place - Rawalpindi has been dropped from the schedule, leaving Karachi and Lahore as the only venues - transporting that confidence on to reluctant players will be the big job. "The first thing we should look at is what we can do," Lorgat said. "What we will try and do is convey the type of confidence we have in the measures that are in place, hence why we will go to member countries to convince them.

"You've got to remember that, unfortunately, they sit far away and they've not been to Pakistan. They might not share the sentiment that we do and it would be good of us to go and explain to them exactly what measures are in place and raise their levels of confidence. Some of us who've been here feel satisfied with the security measures. If we can convince them, then there is no issue."

Lorgat did hint again that no action is likely against players who opt out, saying "we can never force anybody to come and play in the competition". "We will do our very best to convince them. The member countries have signed participation agreements to send their teams."

Lorgat also gave details of the task force's visit. "We've had two very entertaining days in Pakistan," he said. "We got into Islamabad and met with officials and diplomats in the day. We then proceeded to Lahore to get a physical demonstration of the security measures that have largely been recommended in various security consultant reports and observed them. Similarly, we've observed them in Karachi." Observations will be shared and points noted before two teams head off on missions to either side of the planet."

Confirmation of the cutting of Rawalpindi from the schedule came after the group was unable to check the security arrangements during the Asia Cup in June and July. "There has been no way for us to formulate an opinion on the venue," Lorgat said.

"We believe that by excluding Rawalpindi and using just two venues, both of them successful hosts during the Asia Cup, it will remove doubt, allow a further concentration of resources and thus improve comfort levels for all stakeholders in the event." Lahore will host eight of the 15 games, including the opening match on September 12 and the final on September 28.

Lorgat also acknowledged there could be further visits to Pakistan by the task force, should the situation arise. "It is difficult to predict because the brief is to exist through to the end of the tournament. It is a dynamic process. If something different was to occur or the environment was to change then perhaps the task force may well re-visit. At this stage I cannot say but certainly the task force will exist to the end of the tournament."