|Officials hope the social media ban will prevent further cricket scandals from spoiling the sport [Reuters]
Pakistan has banned its cricketers from social networking sites Facebook and Twitter in the latest effort to exert discipline following a series of damaging scandals, an official said Wednesday.
Team manager Intikhab Alam said the decision was made after wicket-keeper Zulqarnain Haider used Facebook to announce his retirement, after absconding from duty in Dubai and flying to London last month.
He used the popular social networking site to announce that he was retiring from international cricket and intended to seek political asylum after allegedly receiving death threats and being pressured to fix matches.
Haider threatened to name and shame on Facebook Pakistani teammates allegedly involved in match-fixing.
Alam told AFP that players had been ordered to steer clear of these websites.
"Nobody is allowed to discuss cricket on websites like Facebook and Twitter, and since there is a clause in players' central contracts, they are bound to follow it," Alam said, adding that Pakistan's players had disowned any such accounts.
"We have also sought advice from our legal adviser as to how to stop people making fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. We can take them to court if they don't abstain from this."
Alam said the ban is part of the Pakistan Cricket Board's drive to maintain strict discipline and lift the team out of a series of fixing controversies.
"We have told the players to maintain discipline and avoid any controversy, and this ban is part of that planning," Alam said.
Senior batsman Younus Khan, former captain Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq, Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Akhtar have Facebook profiles, but only a few use their accounts regularly.
Still there was criticism of the ban.
"It is a bit harsh on us, because it's social contact and we can talk to our families on Facebook while on tour," said one cricketer, who is travelling to New Zealand with the team later this month but did not want to be named.
Players from England and Australia regularly use Twitter to vent their feelings.
England captain Andrew Strauss defended the medium but urged his players to use Twitter judiciously after ace batsman Kevin Pietersen blasted practice facilities at Adelaide ahead of the second Ashes Test in Australia.
Surprisingly, Pakistan's popular all-rounder Shahid Afridi is not on Facebook and neither have his fans created a community page in his name.
"Maybe Afridi has privacy on his Facebook page. The only way you can judge whether players' pages are genuine or fake is through their mutual friends," Imran Fida, an IT expert, said.
In May, the Pakistani government briefly blocked access to Facebook after an anonymous user called on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed to promote "freedom of expression", sparking angry protests in the conservative Muslim country.