Presidential security for Proteas

Many years ago the sight of an unmarked, inconsequential-looking, white family car carrying a very, very important man to work in the Cape Town morning traffic was something which created debates and conversations to last a lifetime.

He wasn’t just an important man in South African terms, he was a world leader. He was Nelson Mandela. And he was on his way to parliament. Apparently, according to political correspondents familiar with the ways of Madiba, it was because he hated the fuss and fanfare of a convoy.

But security officers, apparently, were also content because the chances of following a Toyota Corolla in heavy traffic – let alone spotting it starting its journey – were hard enough for potential trouble-makers to actually increase rather than decrease the great man’s security.

The South African cricket team in Colombo cannot possibly be compared to South Africa’s first democratically elected president, but the issue of their safety does have some legitimate comparisons.

Sri Lankan authorities have constantly reassured the team that Tamil Tiger separatists have never targeted sports teams, specifically cricket teams, and that they will be safe en route from hotel to ground, and back again. (This assumes that they are prepared to be confined to the hotel between games and will remain within its confines for the next two weeks.)

But the problem with an ‘upgrade’ of security for the team to ‘presidential’ level is that presidential security is reliant on the military which is, of course, not just a target for the Tamils, but the primary target. So does surrounding the South African team with high numbers of primary Tamil targets constitute an increase in their safety or a significant decrease?

This is a question the ICC’s independent security advisors will have to address in the three days they have to complete their assessment of security conditions before South Africa’s rescheduled opening match against India on Saturday.

If that wasn’t a significant enough concern for South Africa’s players, there is another question gnawing away at the back of their minds. And at the front, for that matter.

Their own security consultants, (Bob) Nicholls & (Rory) Steyn, completed a thorough report on the security situation in Colombo before the team arrived and, once again, in the last three days. The first one gave the ‘all-clear’ for the tour to go ahead while the second, it is believed, suggested the team’s safety could no longer be adequately guaranteed.

With the greatest of respect to the ‘lesser’ players in the security business, of which there are many in South Africa, the national team’s consultants are very, very good. So good, in fact, that the ICC has used them to conduct security assessments for its own purposes in more than one country and on behalf of many teams. And so good, in fact, that they there awarded the security contract for the ICC’s global, flagship event, the 2003 World Cup. And how did they perform? So well, in fact, that the ICC awarded them the contract for the 2007 World Cup, too.

Using neutral umpires on the field of play because of the possibility of inherent bias is one thing, but to (inadvertently, surely) imply that men whose job it is to secure lives might be biased in favour of their countrymen has left a bitter taste in the team’s collective mouth. If the word of Nicholls & Steyn is good enough for all the world’s cricketers, why isn’t it good enough for South Africa’s cricketers? That is the question South Africa’s cricketers are asking themselves as they sit in Colombo awaiting the arrival of the ICC’s ‘second opinion’ team.

Meanwhile, family members and friends of the players who have been astounded by the news that the re-arranged itinerary for the triangular tournament now has the players arriving back four days later than originally scheduled can rest assured. Apparently they will be back on time, as originally scheduled, on August 30th, not September 3rd. Apparently, the Indian team has rejected the new timetable citing a prior engagement in Singapore. Apparently.

But then, nothing seems certain any more. It could all have changed three times in the time it has taken me to write this.
And anyway, I haven’t seen a single white Corolla in Colombo yet.

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