Tension along border stings hockey league
As tension simmers on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir, the presence of players from across the border in the Hockey India League has come into sharp focus, especially after the disruption of the Mumbai franchise’s training session by Shiv Sena workers on Sunday and a pitch invasion by a couple of protesters during the inaugural match in New Delhi on Monday.
Nine Pakistan players are part of the Hockey India League that began with a match between Delhi Waveriders and Punjab Warriors in New Delhi on Monday. Coming immediately after the visit of the Pakistan cricket team, the league featuring players from that country was expected to boost relations between the two countries.
But the incidents on the border have placed the event in a different light, with many even questioning the propriety of having them here while a similar, higher profile sporting venture—cricket’s Indian Premier League—remains out of bounds for Pakistan players. The Mumbai franchise, named the Mumbai Magicians, were unable to train at its home city on Sunday thanks to the Sainiks’ intervention and quickly shifted its session to New Delhi on Monday. The Mumbai team has four players from Pakistan—Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmad, Mohammad Tousiq and Imran Butt—and coach Ric Charlesworth felt it would have been meaningless to hold a training session with these players crucial in his scheme of things.
The Pakistan players feature in four of the five teams that are part of the inaugural Hockey India League — Mohammad Rizwan Sr, Mohammad Rizwan Jr (Delhi Waveriders), Kashif Shah (Punjab Warriors), Shafaq Rasool, Mohammad Irfan (Ranchi Rhinos). Uttar Pradesh Wizards are the only team without Pakistani representation.
Concerns over their safety have been expressed in many quarters after the Mumbai incident. On Monday, during the inaugural match, two youngsters, said to be from an outfit identified as Hindu Yuvak Sabha, invaded the pitch shouting anti-Pakistan slogans. The teams figuring in the inaugural match had, however, refrained from fielding their Pakistani recruits.
The Pakistan Hockey Federation has said it was not worried about the scenario. “I am not at all worried. Everything is normal, there are no security concerns. I have talked ti HI officials and they have assured me that foolproof security will be provided to Pakistani players,” PHF secretary Asif Bajwa said.
“There are certain elements who are doing all these things to disrupt the relations between India and Pakistan.”
But echoes of the Mumbai protest are already being heard in New Delhi with Hockey India’s rival, the Indian Hockey Federation, coming out openly against Pak players participation.