Security fears prompt withdrawal from Pakistani event

Updated: October 11, 2004, 10:02 PM ET
Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Olympic field hockey champion Australia pulled out of a December tournament in Pakistan because of security fears.

The decision Monday came after a suicide bombing at a mosque killed four people in Lahore, where the Champions Trophy will be held Dec. 4-12. The attack was the third this month against a religious target in eastern Punjab province in violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

"(Australia) has pulled out despite the fact that we have given the security assurances of all the participating teams," Musarratullah Khan, secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation, told The Associated Press.

Traditionally, the top six countries in the Olympics take part in the Champions Trophy. The Netherlands, Germany, Spain and New Zealand have confirmed they will participate, Khan said. India, which finished seventh at the Athens Games, will replace Australia.

"I am disappointed over Australia's decision, and it's not good for the promotion of the game," Khan said.

The Pakistani organizers' criticism prompted a statement by the board of Hockey Australia.

"The advice for all Australians to defer travel to Pakistan leaves us with no choice but to withdraw," the statement said. "Australia has a record of participating in every Champions Trophy tournament since inception, of which we are very proud.

"This decision has not been taken lightly, but was made with absolute due regard to our responsibilities to Australian team members and the international hockey community," it said.

Bombings, shootings and other violence frequently take place throughout Pakistan, and other international teams have been skittish about competing there. The New Zealand cricket team cut short a tour of Pakistan in May 2002 after a deadly bomb blast outside its hotel in Karachi. No players were hurt.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press