NZ mulls security for sports teams after mosque shooting
On a regular test match morning Hagley Oval in Christchurch would be a hive of activity.
Mowers would be sweeping the broad, green outfield, ground staff making the last, finicky touches to the test match pitch, cricket players going through warmups, pundits huddling and discussing prospects for the day.
But Saturday morning, the tree-lined oval near the center of Christchurch was a desolate reminder of the tragic events of the previous day. The stadium and the usual bustling boulevards that surround it were deserted as police urged people to stay indoors. The cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh was canceled.
On Friday afternoon, a gunman dressed in black, military style clothing opened fire on worshippers gathered for afternoon prayers at the Al Noor Mosque, only a 10-minute walk from the stadium.
A bus carrying members of the Bangladesh cricket team had just driven into a street near the mosque when the shooting started. Players and team support staff had planned to pray at the mosque before continuing to the ground to join teammates and coaching staff.
Players sheltered aboard the bus as shots rang out. The shootings, at two mosques, killed 49 people.
After a terrifying wait, described in vivid Twitter posts, players were able to leave the bus and walk through Hagley Park to Hagley Oval where, deeply shaken, they waited in their locker room until police allowed them to return to their hotel.
The team’s performance analyst, Shrinivas Chandrasekeran, posted on Twitter “Just escaped active shooters. Heartbeats pumping badly and panic everywhere.”
Mohammad Isam, a journalist from ESPNCricinfo, filmed the players as they made their way from the bus to the ground. They were told not to run but walk briskly and they did so, tension and distress evident in haunted looks.
Three hours after the shooting, New Zealand Cricket, in consultation with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and International Cricket Council, announced the five-day match had been canceled.
In cricket, the cancellation of a test match for reasons other than the weather is a rare event. In 2002 a scheduled test between Pakistan and New Zealand in Karachi was canceled after a terrorist bombing close to the visitors’ team hotel.
In announcing the cancellation, New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White made clear that the events of Friday had forever changed the way in which the country approaches the security of sporting teams. Small and isolated, New Zealand has often considered itself immune from wider world events such as terrorist violence.
“This is shocking. This will change the entire fabric of international sports hosting,” White said. “I think everything changes now. We’ll certainly be having to look at our security in depth. I think the idea of New Zealand being a safe haven is gone now.”
New Zealand cricketer Jimmy Neesham expressed a similar sense of shock and loss.
“For so long I’ve watched world events from afar and naively thought we were somehow different in our little corner of the world, somehow safe,” Neesham said in a social media post. “Today is a terrible day. Disgusted and saddened doesn’t begin to describe it.”
The Bangladesh team was due to leave New Zealand at noon Saturday. Isam, who spent most of Friday afternoon and evening with the players, said they had no thoughts of playing cricket and wished only to return to their homes.
The Bangladesh Cricket Board issued a statement saying it was shocked and deeply saddened by the shootings.
“Our heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims and our thoughts are with them at this time of grave tragedy,” the statement said. “The board thanks New Zealand Cricket (NZC) for ensuring that members of the Bangladesh national cricket team are safe and secure in Christchurch.”
The Bangladesh Cricket Board said it expected the team to arrive late Saturday in Dhaka.