England ready to pull out of Commonwealth Games over terror risk
England is poised to pull out of next year’s Commonwealth Games over fears that athletes will be victims of a terrorist attack, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
By Holly Watt and Robert Winnett
Published: 10:00PM GMT 29 Dec 2009
England ready to pull out of Commonwealth Games over terror risk - Telegraph (external - login to view)
It would be the first time that England has not competed in the 80-year-old Games, which are due to be held in Delhi in October.
Police and security advisers fear that the English team will be targeted by Pakistani terrorists and feel that athletes’ safety cannot be guaranteed at present.
Sir 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.
Although a formal decision on England’s participation will not be taken until the new year, senior Whitehall sources told The Daily Telegraph that there was “virtually no chance” a team would be sent.
“If you are an English athlete there is no way you are going to want to risk your life competing at the Games. We currently cannot see any way that England will be able to send a team to Delhi next year,” said one source.
A spokesman for the English Commonwealth Games organising body indicated that the team’s participation was in jeopardy.
Caroline Searle insisted that athletes were looking forward to competing, but said: “We continue to monitor the security situation. We take guidance from the Metropolitan Police. We can’t make a judgment until nearer the time. We have had briefings on security and we will decide when we know what the terror threat is going to be like.”
England was planning to send almost 100 athletes to the Games, which are seen as important preparation for the 2012 Olympics in London and can draw television audiences of more than a billion.
Among those hoping to add to their gold medal tallies were Rebecca Adlington, the double Olympic champion swimmer, Tom Daley, the world champion diver, and Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist.
If the English team withdraws, the entire competition would be in jeopardy. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish teams would almost certainly follow suit, as could countries such as Australia and Canada which also have troops in Afghanistan — the likely justification for any terrorist attack. Several high-profile English athletes have already pulled out of the Games citing other commitments.
Beth Tweddle, the world championship gymnast and captain of the 2006 English Commonwealth team, is not attending the Games which clash with a world gymnastics tournament. Jessica Ennis, the world champion heptathlete, and Paula Radcliffe, the marathon runner, also announced that they would not be travelling to Delhi.
Sue Hawkins, the England netball coach, said earlier this year that her team would withdraw if there was a security threat. “The English government will make sure that we’re secure and if there’s any doubt
I’m sure we won’t be going,” she added. India has been the scene of a series of recent terrorist attacks and threats, including the Mumbai atrocity in November 2008 in which at least 170 people were killed.
Several other major sporting events have already been moved from the subcontinent. The England team withdrew from the World Badminton Championships in Hyderabad in August after terrorist threats. In
March, the Sri Lankan cricket team was ambushed while being driven to a match in Lahore, Pakistan. Twelve gunmen attacked their convoy, killing eight Pakistanis and injuring six Sri Lankan players and a
British assistant coach. After that incident, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament was moved to South Africa. A British security expert with knowledge of the Delhi Games said that the Indian authorities had left it until the “11th hour” to properly prepare security. Some former SAS people were out there last year offering security advice but now everything is being handled by the Indians,” he said.
“They are way behind the curve and the whole competition is a poisoned chalice now. The Indians do have good police and military so they could just throw huge resources at the problem but it may not be enough to convince the western governments.”
The decision not to send an English team is likely to split the athletics community. British swimmers said recently that they saw the Games as a crucial part of their Olympic preparations.
Earlier this year, Lord Coe, the London 2012 chairman who has family connections to India, called for the Delhi Games not to be relocated.
He said: “If we want to globalise these events, if we want to make sure that they don’t just consistently go to a clutch of countries that are quite clearly resourced, then organisations like the
Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Movement are going to have to put frameworks around to help them.”
There were already concerns that preparations for the Games were behind schedule.
Infrastructure projects were slow and over-budget and there were reports of disputes between Delhi’s local organising committee and the Games’ ruling body.
In October, Michael Fennell, the Commonwealth Games Federation president, warned organisers that “time is your enemy”.
The Commonwealth Games, featuring 71 nations and territories, was expected to be the biggest multi-sport event to be staged in India since the Asian Games in 1982. In 2006 they were held in Melbourne and the 2014 Games are due to be held in Glasgow.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said last night that the force did not comment on security matters.
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said that talks were ongoing to try to ensure a safe and secure Games.