England deny pull-out plans


LONDON: Organisers of England’s participation in next year’s Commonwealth Games denied yesterday a report that they were considering pulling out of the event in India due to security fears.The Daily Telegraph, quoting unnamed sources, said police and security advisers feared the England team would be targeted by Pakistani militants and felt the safety of athletes could not currently be guaranteed.

There was therefore “virtually no chance” of England sending a team, in what would be the first time that England has not competed in the 80-year history of the Games, to be held in New Delhi in October, said the paper.

But Commonwealth Games England chief Ann Hogbin said: “That is definitely not the case.

Our current and strong intention is to field a team for the Games in Delhi next year.

“Of course, we have a duty of care to the athletes and other team members which we take very seriously.

“Despite having been given extensive briefings from relevant authorities we have not received any indication that we should not participate in the Games and we will continue to work hard to put in place the best possible arrangements for our team.”

Responding to the Telegraph report, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it “has not advised any of the British teams” against competing in the Games.

“We are aware that the Commonwealth Games Federation had some concerns about preparations for the Games,” it added in a statement.

“We continue to work closely with the Indian authorities who are doing everything they can to ensure a safe and secure Games.”

The report comes after the England badminton team pulled out of the world championships in India in August, saying security in the host city of Hyderabad was lax, and sparking criticism that they were overreacting.

Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, visited the Indian capital earlier this month to inspect the  Games sites and was said to have voiced “serious concerns” about the  security arrangements, the newspaper said.

“If you are an English athlete there is no way you are going to want to risk your life competing at the Games,” a senior government source was quoted as saying.

“We currently cannot see any way that England will be able to send a team to Delhi next year,” the source added.

Concern of an attack on England’s athletes apparently stems from Britain’s role in the international conflict against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The perceived risk of foreign sports stars being targeted in South Asia has increased since gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan, in March.

Six policemen and two civilians were killed and seven Sri Lankan squad members were wounded in the assault as the team travelled to a Test match.

Militant attacks in Mumbai last November that killed 166 people have also added to anxiety about teams travelling to India.

Concerns are also mounting in India over delays on the construction of venues for the Games, which involve 6,000 international athletes competing in 17 sports. — AFP