The gunshots fired at the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3 are still ringing across the border in the ears of India’s sports officials.
India’s desire to remain a major sporting destination with ambitions of hosting the Olympics one day is being clouded by a perception abroad that the country is not safe.
Only cricket appears untouched as players from around the globe jet in regularly to cash in on the millions of dollars offered in lucrative events like the Indian Premier League.
Australia pulled out of a Davis Cup tennis tie in Chennai in May and England withdrew from the world badminton championships in Hyderabad in August despite no specific terror threats to the two events.
It sent shockwaves across the sporting fraternity since Australia and England are expected to be the main draws at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October next year.
Australian and British officials see no threat of a boycott of the Games, but not everyone in India is convinced. Twice bitten, no one is willing to take anything for granted.
The Indian government released an additional 15 million dollars to secure the Games after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers that followed the Mumbai terror strikes in November.
Paranoid officials have even dropped a proposal to provide high-speed internet wi-fi services across the Indian capital during the Games because they felt militants use wi-fi to link up with their masters.
New Delhi is confident of hosting a successful Commonwealth Games and the preceding field hockey World Cup in February-March, but officials wonder how they can change individual perceptions.
England walked out of the world badminton event, joined later by two Austrian doubles players, due to a stray newspaper report that spoke of an impending terror strike despite assurances from the government there was no threat to the championships.
The report stemmed from a review of the venue by intelligence and para-military officials prior to the tournament, not unusual for any major event in any part of the world.
The Indians were understandably furious at English Olympic silver medallist Nathan Robertson’s comment on returning home that he was “just glad to be back in one piece”.
The Scottish team, which scoffed at England’s withdrawal, later complained there was too much security and felt “imprisoned in hotel rooms.”
The tournament passed off without any trouble — barring a false alarm of swine flu — with federal home minister P. Chidambaram making a point by attending the final.
The tough-talking Chidambaram said he was “burning inside” when he learnt of England’s withdrawal and stressed that “we have the capacity to provide full and complete security to any international sports event.”
Canadian players ignored warnings from Badminton Canada to pull out and stayed on in Hyderabad to play in the championships, with coach Ram Nayar saying the team had “no concerns.”
“We were aware of the advisory, but had no worries,” said Nayar. “In fact, some of the players who lost early took a trip to Rajasthan for sight-seeing.”
There are no such worries for cricket either despite it being the most high-profile sport in India with thousands packing stadiums across the country.
Kevin Pietersen-led England returned to play a Test series in India less than a fortnight after the November 26 Mumbai attacks that left 172 dead and more than 300 injured.
Shane Warne’s Rajasthan Royals continued with their IPL engagements at their home base of Jaipur despite a bomb blast in the city during the inaugural edition of the cash-rich Twenty20 event in 2008.
Their compatriots in tennis and badminton may think otherwise, but England and Australian cricketers see no problem with security in India.
Two domestic English teams will take part in the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League in October and Australia will play seven one-day internationals soon after.
This year’s IPL was shifted to South Africa due to the government’s reluctance to spare security forces at the time of general elections, and not because any player feared his safety.
“They won’t refuse to come to India because of the money they earn,” a furious Indian Olympic official said. “But if India is safe for cricket, it must be safe for all sports.”