London: New Zealand confirmed Friday they will not play their scheduled World Cup match against Kenya in Nairobi next month because of security fears over their players.
A day-long meeting of New Zealand Cricket (NZC) in Wellington concluded the ICC had been wrong on Thursday to reject their request to transfer the February 21 match to South Africa.
“The information received by the ICC security delegation to Kenya made it clear that there is a tangible terrorist threat in Nairobi and the board has seen nothing which changes that,” NZC said in a statement.
Security concerns over Kenya have intensified after a suicide bombing killed 16 people in an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in the city of Mombasa in November. Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network claimed responsibility.
The tournament’s executive director Ali Bacher confirmed New Zealand would automatically forfeit all four points. Australia and West Indies lost their points at the 1996 Cup when they refused to play in Colombo after bomb blasts in the previous week.
“It’s unfortunate that the New Zealand cricket board meeting has taken the decision that they will not honour their obligation to play in Nairobi,” Bacher told a news conference in Johannesburg. “The show must go on and we will make sure this is a wonderful event for Africa.”
Kenya are now left with just one match in the meet which begins with an opening ceremony in Cape Town on February 8. Sri Lanka are scheduled to play Kenya in Nairobi on February 24.
The chairman of the Kenya Cricket Association, Jimmy Rayani, said he would appeal to New Zealand cricket authorities to ask them to change their decision.
“I still hope they will reconsider their decision if they actually made one, and come and play cricket,” Rayani said. “We have said all along that their concern about security is misconceived and based on wrong premises.”
Kenya’s vice-president said New Zealand would be handing victory to “terrorists” if they stuck to their refusal to play the match in Nairobi.
“The terrorists are celebrating, that’s a victory for them,” Kenyan vice-president Michael Wamalwa said. “I’m urging them to reconsider, because the act of not coming would be interpreted as a victory by the terrorist organisations,” he said.
Sharad Ghai, chairman of Kenya’s World Cup organising committee, said Kenya had put in place an equivalent level of security to that in South Africa, where New Zealand are willing to play.
“It’s very disappointing that they’re planning to take this kind of action, it’s not good for the game,” Ghai said. “I don’t blame them for being extra cautious, but I expect them to be fair.”
New Zealand’s foreign minister Phil Goff said he understood why NZC had chosen to default the match.
Though there is no specific information that said the World Cup or New Zealanders were being targeted, the intention of terrorists was to target westerners for maximum publicity, Goff said. “The current controversy may have heightened the threat by giving the event greater profile,” he said.
NZC said it would now resolve the matter through “legal processes” but gave no details. It has potential recourse to a six-man World Cup technical committee that has the power from Sunday to consider any appeal to move matches for security reasons.
If satisfied that a team has a reasonable case, the ICC technical committee can order that the four points for the match are shared.
Three judges from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya will comprise a final appeal body if the technical committee turns down a request.
The members of the technical committee are Sunil Gavaskar, chairman of the ICC Cricket Committee (Playing), Bacher, Michael Holding, Malcolm Speed, Campbell Jamieson and Brian Basson.
Jeff Crowe hopeful
Meanwhile, New Zealand manager Jeff Crowe said the team remained hopeful of playing its match against Kenya at a South African venue. “All the documentation is in the hands of the ICC, so I don’t want to elaborate right now,” said Crowe.
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