Pakistani women’s cricket team staying in stadium fearing attacks

Bhubaneswar, Feb 1: Fearing an attack, the Pakistani women’s cricket team has been lodged at the Barabati stadium in Cuttack city, officials said Friday.

“One Pakistani player was taken to a hospital outside the stadium after she fell ill. No other player has gone out of the stadium. None of them have expressed their wish to go outside,” a district police officer told IANS.

Cuttack, 26 km from here, has a population of over half a million, of which 94 per cent are Hindus and five per cent Muslims. Christians and Sikh comprise the rest.

The city witnessed large scale protests last month when the state government decided to host the International Cricket Council’s women’s cricket matches involving the Pakistani team.

“Every day there are demonstrations outside the stadium or elsewhere in the city. This is happening since Jan 23,” the officer added.

Police arrested 34 activists of Utkal Bharat, a small political party, Friday after they shouted slogans against the Pakistani team outside the stadium clubhouse, taking the total arrests in the city in such protests since Jan 23 to 300, he said.

“What kind of World Cup matches are these when players are confined to a stadium for security. Such matches should be cancelled,” a local cricketer said.

“When we knew that we cannot provide the players the freedom and luxury, we should have avoided hosting such matches in Odisha” the cricketer, who did not want to be named, added.

An organiser refuted the allegation. “They are not going out because of security reasons. Facilities at the club house match those at five-star hotels,” Asirbad Behera, secretary of Orissa Cricket Association, told IANS.

Behera said cultural programmes are being organised in the stadium daily to entertain the players and adequate security arrangements have been made.

“We don’t mind the accommodation. We are not here to stay in five-star hotels. We are here to play cricket and we are comfortable (in the clubhouse),” Pakistani cricket team captain Sana Mir said.

The players are likely to stay for a fortnight at the same venue to play the matches.

However, right wing groups like Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and political parties such as BJP, Kalinga Sena and Utkal Bharat said they would continue protesting.

They say they are against the Pakistanis playing here because of the recent tensions between India and Pakistan at the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. Last month, two Indian soldiers were killed and their bodies mutilated by Pakistani soldiers along the LoC. One soldier’s head was cut off and taken away by Pakistani troops.

“We have nothing against players of other countries,” Utkal Bharat president M.A. Kharabela Swain, who was arrested thrice during the past few days, said.

Cuttack was chosen as a last-minute venue after the Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt Pakistan’s matches in Mumbai where the tournament was originally scheduled.

Initially the organisers had wanted to house the Pakistani players in a hotel in state capital Bhubaneswar. However, they decided to lodge them at the newly-built stadium clubhouse so that they have better security.

IANS