New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Monday that the International Cricket Council's (ICC) decision to bar Sikh fans from carrying 'kirpans' at World Cup matches was wrong.
Seven Sikh cricket fans were stopped from entering Eden Park to watch India play Zimbabwe in a match on Saturday as they were carrying kirpans, The New Zealand Herald reported.
The kirpan is a small ceremonial sword carried by Sikhs as part of their religious attire. To the ICC, it is a weapon.
Key said the ICC rightly set the rules for what could be brought into New Zealand cricket venues. "It's their tournament, not ours. So we can't dictate that to them."
However, Key told a group of Sikhs that he was sympathetic to their position.
"My understanding of the kirpan is it is for the most part very small, it's a blunt instrument.
"And, actually, if you want to make the case that someone could cause harm with that, they're probably much more likely to be able to cause harm with anything else you can get at the grounds, including a wine bottle or something else," the prime minister said.
Daljit Singh, chairman of the Supreme Sikh Council, said many in the Sikh community were unhappy with the ICC decision and their council was considering taking legal action.
"This decision has huge implication because we have about 500 in our community who already bought tickets for the semi-finals, and are now worried that they cannot get in," he said.
"We have been told that, under New Zealand law, it is legal to carry a kirpan, but this ban is being imposed by the ICC which we feel should follow the law of the land."
It is legal to wear a kirpan in New Zealand but these cannot be taken on to flights.
Key also said he wanted the government to look at making an exemption in aviation rules for the kirpan.
"Some countries have legislated that, I think Britain and Australia. We might look at it."