The scenes of bomb-induced devastation in Karachi which filled the hotel room via the television set early on Friday morning were exactly what the pessimists had feared and the optimists had prayed against.
Such a devastating loss of life, as always, reminds anyone involved in professional sport that it is, at best, a pleasing triviality and, at worst, an obscene distraction from what matters most – life and death.
So why should anyone give a damn that South Africa’s cricketers don’t want to go back to Karachi to finish their five-match one-day series against Pakistan as scheduled in just over a week’s time? But some will give a damn. People will say: “But sport goes on, the team has not been threatened once in almost a month in Pakistan, the security is not only adequate for a sports team, it would be enough for a president.”
And still others will say: “The bombings have nothing to do with cricket, it is simply political. Nobody is interested in hurting the cricket team. It is just aimed at Benazir Bhutto.”
All of which is correct, but which also misses one very important point. Did the suicide bombers wish to harm innocent civilians, let alone kill over 160 on Thursday night? Perhaps they did, given that they were Bhutto supporters. But they certainly didn’t care about them. How could they with so much death strapped to their bodies?
If there is a chance that the South Africans may be inadvertently caught in the cross-fire, then it is their security staff’s responsibility to remove them from that situation.
However many security personnel have been assigned to the South Africans, one can feel reasonably certain that Bhutto had more. Yet somebody was able to walk up to within a couple of feet of her bus and blow themselves up. It is understandable that touring players aren’t keen on sitting on a similar bus back in Karachi in a week’s time.
For the whole tour so far, the players have been under ‘hotel-arrest’. They have not visited a shop, a market or a restaurant. The only two excursions out have been to ‘secure’ venues to watch the Springboks play in the World Cup quarter and semi-finals.
The effect has been twofold: The squad has been safe. But they have been living in a claustrophobic and unnatural mini-world which has served as a constant reminder that the bigger one, just outside the hotel, is also unnatural and dangerous.
It is enough to appreciate the players’ collective willingness to continue the tour to Faisalabad and Multan and to appreciate the effort and trust it takes for sportsmen to accept other peoples’ assurances that cities within the same country can be so different, but they appear set to do so.
By midday Friday many phone calls had been made and many meetings were taking place regarding the remaining nine days of the tour. Many “stakeholders”, no doubt, had to be consulted.
But one thing seemed perfectly clear. The South Africans would not be returning to Karachi. And any further sign of political violence or instability in the country would almost certainly result in a sadly premature end to the tour.
But when it’s life and death you’re talking about, runs and wickets don’t carry quite the same allure.
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