The show must go on

Even now, I’m not sure it has sunk in.

Jamaican police have confirmed that Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer was murdered by “manual strangulation” on Sunday. Links to match-fixing rings have been the focus of much of the speculation over the past five days; in addition to any allegations surrounding Pakistan, Woomler was also the coach of South Africa at the time of the Hansie Cronje scandal.

Woolmer’s death was already a tragedy when the world believed he had died of natural causes; now, it is something altogether more sinister.

The ICC have confirmed the competition will continue. On Wednesday, Pakistan completed their formalities, defeating Zimbabwe in emotional circumstances. And the wider match schedule continues uninterrupted.

Some commentators, such as Allan Donald (who played for South Africa under Woolmer), have called into question whether the World Cup should continue under the circumstances: not just a death, but a murder; not just a murder, but one linked to that most unsporting of crimes, match-fixing.

“I just don’t know how this World Cup can continue under the shadow of what’s happened,” Donald told the BBC. “World Cup 2007 will be forever remembered for this.”

Sad, but true.

No matter what great performances we see on the field of play over the next five weeks – and we have seen some truly memorable ones already – this World Cup will forever be remembered for Woolmer’s murder, just as the Munich Olympics of 1972 is associated as much with the massacre of 11 Israeli team members (and one policeman) by Black September terrorists, as it is with Mark Spitz’s seven swimming golds or the spellbinding grace of Olga Korbut.

Should the show go on in such circumstances, or should it pause or even stop altogether? It’s hard to say. Certainly, there are massive complications – both logistical and commercial – in rescheduling any major sporting tournament: TV rights, ticketing, teams’ and fans’ travel arrangements, and the million and one other things that go on behind the scenes to make an event like this just happen. But it can be done: competition in the Munich Olympics was suspended for a day, and in the wake of the 9/11 bombings the Ryder Cup was pushed back twelve months.

So it can be stopped, but should it be?

For me, if the Pakistan team were happy to fulfil their obligations and play what was (for them at least) a meaningless game in circumstances where suspicion was already rife, then there is no reason why the tournament as a whole cannot continue. The growing rumour about links to match-fixing is neither here nor there: it is a spectre which has never gone away and will probably never do so.

The show must go on. Not because of commercial interests, not even because it is the right thing to do for the fans who have travelled thousands of miles to see it, but because it’s what I’m sure Woolmer, a cricketing man through and through, would have wanted. The World Cup should be a celebration of cricket. The time for mourning and criminal proceedings will come later.

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