The Bangladesh cricket team was minutes away from arriving at a Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque Friday when a gunman began carrying out the deadliest shooting in the country’s history. It is being characterized as a terrorist attack.
At least 49 people were killed in shootings at two mosques, per reports, including 41 at the Al Noor Mosque the cricket team was approaching. Bangladesh was in the city for a match against New Zealand and saw the aftermath of the attack first-hand.
It has brought up security concerns for international cricket competitions and specifically New Zealand, a place where mass shootings are rare.
Bangladesh team ‘really lucky’ to miss attack
The Bangladesh cricket team started to hear gunshots and see the carnage en route to the Al Noor Mosque for Friday prayers, according to reports. Mohammad Isam, ESPN’s Bangladesh correspondent, reported that around 12 minutes after the gunman entered the mosque, a player called Isam for help and asked him to call the police to report a shooting.
"We must have been about 50 yards from the mosque,” team manager Khaled Mashud said, per ESPN. “I would say we were really lucky. Had we reached even three or four minutes earlier, we probably would have been inside the mosque. This could then have been a massive incident."
Team members told the Press Trust of India they initially saw a woman fainting and wanted to get down to help her. They then realized more was going on as others fled the scene. They were told to lie on the floor of the bus until police arrived to escort them out the backdoor, per the Press Trust of India.
The team walked to nearby Hagley Oval for the match, according to the Associated Press, and eventually returned to its hotel. Per early Friday reports in the U.S. the hotel was in lockdown.
Islam reported first-person information to various outlets and told the AP the players were shaken, distressed, and in no mental state to play a match. They’ll fly back to Bangladesh as soon as possible, he said.
Players shared their thoughts on social media in the aftermath.
Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers #christchurchMosqueAttack
— Tamim Iqbal Khan (@TamimOfficial28) March 15, 2019
Test match canceled
The international third test match between Bangladesh and New Zealand, set to begin Saturday, was canceled.
“On behalf of New Zealand Cricket heartfelt condolences to those affected,” New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White said in a statement. “I’ve spoken to my counterpart at Bangladesh cricket — we agree it’s inappropriate to play cricket at this time. Both teams are deeply affected.”
It’s the first test match to be canceled since 2002, according to the AP. That match between Pakistan and New Zealand was canceled after a terrorist bombing in Karachi, Pakistan, where the match was to take place.
Teams, players talk safety protocols
The Associated Press reported remarks from Bangladesh Cricket Board President Nazmul Hassan Papon regarding varying security protocols between countries.
“It is not only, say, Bangladesh or India or Pakistan at the high risk,” he told the AP. “That is why we feel that the security that countries like Bangladesh gives to other teams when they come to play in Bangladesh, we should also get the similar type of security arrangement or support from the host country.”
Former Bangladesh player Sajol Ahmed Chowdhury gave similar remarks, telling the AP the team is the country’s national asset. He added concern over the upcoming cricket World Cup in May.
Team safety was also at the top of mind for New Zealand head David White.
“As a country, we'll have to look at [security of visiting teams],” White told BBC Sports. “It seemed to be a safe haven. I'm sure all of New Zealand will take a look at their approach.”
Fans have already started questioning on social media the various country-specific protocols and International Cricket Council (ICC) approach to travel.
Last summer New Zealand turned down Pakistan’s offer for a tour in the country, citing security concerns.
“At the end of the day it came down to following the advisory and the security reports we’d obtained.” New Zealand Cricket chairman Greg Barclay told Newshub(h/t The Indian Express).
The Times of India reported last week the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is still pursuing an ICC ban on countries that harbor terrorism and is “non-committal” on if it will boycott playing Pakistan in the World Cup. The ICC dismissed the request, per the report, and said there will be tighter security in the wake of a terror attack in Pulwama.
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