Pakistani cricket officials have vowed to stage the final of their Twenty20 league in Lahore next month, despite a Taliban suicide bomb blast, which killed 15 people there this week.
The first two rounds of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) are being played in Dubai and Sharjah, but organizers had planned the March 5 final in Lahore, vowing “head of state security” for international players.
However, multiple Taliban suicide attacks in Pakistan this week, including Monday’s bombing in Lahore, put those plans in jeopardy. “We are committed to hosting the final in Lahore as our people want it there and it will be a step toward reviving international cricket,” PSL Chairman Najam Sethi told AFP on Thursday in Dubai. “VVIP security is ensured.”
The violence-hit country has not hosted a high-profile foreign team since a 2009 gun and bomb attack on the Sri Lankan cricket side that killed eight people and injured nine others, including visiting players.
Sethi said international players competing in the PSL—a list which includes former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, West Indian stars Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, Australia’s Shane Watson, Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan and England’s Twenty20 captain Eoin Morgan—would be asked by Feb. 22 if they are willing to go to Lahore should their team make the final. “After that those who do not want to go will be replaced with other foreign players who are available for Lahore,” he said.
Officials have already said players will be provided with bulletproof buses and heavy police protection, among other high-level security measures.
Five teams—Islamabad United, Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators—are taking part in the league, which reported a healthy $2.6 million profit last year despite being held entirely in the United Arab Emirates.
Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in the last two years thanks to a military and government crackdown on extremism. But groups like the Pakistani Taliban retain the ability to carry out spectacular attacks.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has tried to convince the West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Sri Lanka to play in Pakistan in the last five years, but all declined over security fears.