A day after International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ray Mali backed Pakistan to host the Champions Trophy allaying security fears, several Australian players have reportedly refused to tour the strife-torn country, thus putting a question mark over the biennial event.
The Australian team would be decimated by player-boycott at this year's Champions Trophy should the ICC insist the tournament be staged in Pakistan, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The prospect of the defending champions sending an under-strength team to Pakistan would be a major blow to the organisers, who launched the tournament at a function in Lahore Wednesday.
The Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) has already expressed concern about the safety of players at the Champions Trophy, particularly as the tournament coincides with the holy month of Ramadan in September and is due to begin on the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America.
Worldwide various players' bodies from New Zealand, Australia and England have also joined the FICA chorus. Cricketers from the three countries are understood to have expressed grave reservations about playing in the tournament.
Several leading Australian cricketers have told teammates they would stand down from the most prestigious limited-overs tournament of the year rather than tour a nation they deem to be volatile and unsafe, the report said.
"It is going to come down to the individual's decision," said one member of the team.
"We have talked about it, and there are some guys who will go if security advice says it's OK. But there are others who have said they won't go, regardless. At this stage, we are waiting to hear more," the newspaper quoted the player as saying.
CA is aware of its players' concerns but has publicly stated its preference for the team to play in the tournament in Pakistan in accordance with the ICC's wishes. CA chief executive James Sutherland is expected to discuss a confidential ICC security report on Pakistan at an ICC executive meeting in Dubai next month.
Several players, most notably Andrew Symonds, spoke publicly about their reluctance to tour Pakistan earlier this year when the Australian team was due for a Test and one-day tour around the time of the nation's contentious general elections.
After consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Cricket Australia postponed the tour to 2009-10.
Sri Lanka has been identified as an alternative venue for the Champions Trophy if the security situation deteriorates. However, the island nation carries the same level of DFAT travel warning as Pakistan. Hostilities between government forces and the Tamil Tigers have intensified since 2007, and Tamil suicide bombers have frequently attacked civilian targets in Colombo this year.
The Herald understands South Africa is now being touted as an alternative venue, although only if the worst occurs.
The ICC and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) this week expressed confidence the tournament would be played in Pakistan as scheduled.
England's Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) became the latest to voice strong concerns about playing in the volatile country.
PCA chief executive Sean Morris agreed with the assessment of his FICA counterpart Tim May that "absolutely nothing" had changed in Pakistan since Australia abandoned their Test and one-day series scheduled for March and April.
"I personally support Tim's position," Morris told The Australian yesterday.
From next week, Pakistan will host the six-team Asia Cup, in what ICC president Mali has described as a Champions Trophy dress rehearsal. The PCB has assured nations "fool-proof security arrangements" for both tournaments, including armed escorts and roads completely cleared of people and commerce between team hotels and stadiums.
"The Asia Cup will give Pakistan an opportunity to rehearse for the Champions Trophy," Mali said.