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Security Concerns Spur Indian Cricket Tourney Move


Imagine if the World Series or the Super Bowl had to be played overseas for security reasons. Well, that is the story in India where cricket is king. One tournament, the Indian Premier League, made an enormous amount of money when it debut just last year. It immediately became a national institution. But this year it's been ruled that the tournament must be played outside India because of safety concerns. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports that had stirred a political storm just weeks before general election.

PHILIP REEVES: Cricket has a reputation among the uninitiated for being rather dull, yet no one could ever say that's about the Indian Premier League.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

REEVES: It involves a jazzed up form of cricket that lasts a maximum of three and a half hours. Huge crowds turned out when the tournament was launched in India last year. Sharda Ugra, Deputy Editor of India Today, says the TV audiences were even more enthusiastic.

Ms. SHARDA UGRA (Deputy Editor, India Today): It actually, you know, destroyed the TV ratings of all the soaps, the daily soaps that were some staple viewing for the Indian public. Something like 200 million to 300 million people watched this. So this was the perfect, it was a reality television and sport all put together.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

REEVES: The tournament which lasts a month and a half is brash and glitzy. It has franchises owned by Bollywood stars, international players on million dollar contracts and pompom flourishing cheerleaders. When the league was under way last year it made front page news almost everyday. Now less than three weeks before it comes around again it's making headlines of a different kind. Cricket's governing body in India has decided this year's Indian Premier League, or IPL, must be played overseas. One big reason for this is that the tournament coincides with India's general election. Polling starts next month and is staggered over a month.

The security services in some areas are unable to police elections and the cricket. Two recent events have added significantly to security concerns.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

REEVES: This was one: the assault by Islamists gunmen late last year on India's commercial capital Mumbai in which more than 170 people died. The other was this month's attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in the city of Lahore in neighboring Pakistan. India Today, Sharda Ugra again.

Ms. UGRA: Right now the terrorists just want to make a statement, they want to, you know, catch your attention and go for high profile targets and both the IPL and the elections are very high profile public events.

REEVES: With an election looming the issues become highly politicized. The biggest opposition party, the BJP, is blaming the government. It says sending the tournament abroad is a national disgrace that gives the wrong message to the outside world. India's Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, today blamed state governments for not helping find a solution and told his opponents to keep politics out of sports.

Mr. P. CHIDAMBARAM (Home Minister, India): It appears that IPL is more than a game. It is a shrewd combination of sport and business. There is no reason to add politics to this combination.

REEVES: The Indian Premier League's organizers are now trying to work out where to take the tournament. The favorites are both a long way away, they're South Africa or England.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.