The show must go on

SOUTH AFRICA'S COACH Mickey Arthur, accompanied by a securityman, comes out of the hotel to announce his team's pullout from the Tri-Series.-V. GANESAN

If cricketers are to be chased away by a single, bloody, incident, where will they dare to visit? Nor is it any longer legitimate to divide the world into war zones and safe zones, writes PETER ROEBUCK.

South Africa's decision to abandon its tour to Sri Lanka was immature and premature. At such times it falls to the elders to guide the shaken youngsters in their charge, and to calm the fears of alarmed partners with fertile imaginations and a limited acquaintance with the facts. Always the basic principle in these matters is that "the show must go on."

Unfortunately, the seniors of this team tend to over-react in the face of threats in unfamiliar places. Not long ago they argued passionately for the cancellation of a tour to Pakistan after a bomb went off in a warehouse in downtown Karachi. Later it emerged that the warehouse had been empty and that the explosion was part of a turf war between rival gangs. But the headlines were enough to convince the tourists that they were about to enter a battlefield. It took officials a considerable time to persuade the players to proceed as planned. The tour went well, with never an incident.

Since several of the South African players famously have bullets in their bodies, this rush to flee Sri Lanka was surprising. Doubtless the players were holed up in a posh hotel not far from the explosion, stuck in their rooms, trying to comprehend a civil war they know nothing about, a bitter struggle between Tamil freedom fighters seeking a homeland and a predominantly Sinhalese government. Battle rages in the mainly Tamil northern regions, and it is unusual for other areas to be affected. Many more foreigners were killed by a single tsunami than by all the blasts of the last 20 years.

The hurried departure of the South African team in the wake of a deadly but solitary explosion and a dubious email begs the question "Where next?" If cricketers are to be chased away by a single, bloody, incident, where will they dare to visit? Nor is it any longer legitimate to divide the world into war zones and safe zones.

In the light of this withdrawal, it is inconceivable that these tourists can take part in the Champions Trophy. A few weeks ago, bombs exploded in train compartments in Mumbai, killing numerous people and causing such mayhem that friends thereabouts felt obliged to send messages reassuring all concerned that they had survived.

Nor can South Africa visit England. At present the entire country is on red alert in the aftermath of the plot hatched by evil-doers. Last summer, suicide bombers struck in the London Underground. Australia is a target following its involvement in the ousting of that singularly nasty piece of work, Saddam Hussein.

Already Australian holiday-makers have been killed in an Indonesian nightclub. Pakistan is out of the question. Zimbabwe is safe for visitors because murderers are running the country and can therefore guarantee the well-being of guests. West Indies and New Zealand seem to be the only remaining havens of tranquillity. It is a bleak prospect.

Does South Africa imagine itself to be immune? Moreover crime is so rampant that delegates attending international meetings in Durban cannot leave their hotels without fearing for their possessions. Muggings, hijackings, crashes and murders are part of daily life.

Where is it going to stop? Boje and Gibbs refuse to go to India. Arms have to be twisted before the team heads for Pakistan. Now they have fled Sri Lanka.

Where is it safe these days? Disneyland? Belgium? The Faroe Islands? Certainly not London, or Mumbai, or Sydney, or Johannesburg.