There was a time when we had sporting action all year round.  Teams and players from all nations loved to come to Pakistan for memorable contests and great hospitality.  Then, on March 3, 2009, this all changed.  The Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in Lahore and this incident sent shock waves among sports fans and organizations around the world.  This unfortunate incident had far reaching consequences for sports in Pakistan.

Since the Sri Lankan team attack, we have been working really hard to convince the teams and players from all countries to visit Pakistan but the response has been less than lukewarm.  The most recent disappointment was the four-nation hockey tournament scheduled from April 9-13.  It was an important tournament for Pakistan in view of the preparation for the up coming Olympics.

A Rocky Start

This tournament seemed to be ill-fated right from the beginning.  South Africa was the first among the four nations to pull out.  Initially, they were very willing to participate so that they can get some much needed practice for the qualifying round of the Olympics.  But a change of heart quickly followed the initial acceptance.  Two days before the beginning of the tournament, Malaysia withdrew from the tournament.  Now, Pakistan’s hopes rested on India for a test series but alas, India too declined to participate hours before the beginning of the tournament.

What Did We Do Wrong?

Hockey fans as well as the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) are rightfully disappointed.  The PHF maintains that they wouldn’t have planned this tournament if there was any prior indication that participating nations would have second thoughts.

Both teams said they would send their team. But we will not lose hope and try to keep on making efforts to organise international events in Pakistan. The tour by China in December last year showed that there were no security issues for international teams playing in Pakistan,” said Asif Bajwa, secretary PHF.  He further added,  “We are obviously disappointed with this development because Malaysia had also first confirmed they would take part in the event and then pulled out two days back.”

The PHF secretary highlighted that we have made considerable efforts to improve the relations with India by visiting them and inviting them to play in Pakistan but our gesture was not reciprocated.

In the last two years, we have been to India several times and have invited them to come to Pakistan and assured them full hospitality and security. Unfortunately neither the federation nor their government has responded to us in the same way.”

The other side of the story

Since there is more than one party involved, there has got to be another side to the story.  In response to the statements from the PHF, the Indian Hockey bosses told their side of the story. They presented a reasonable argument that why would they go through the hassle of preparing for the tournament if they didn’t want to participate.

We are surprised by such unilateral statements. We have not pulled out of the event. If that was our intention, why would we conduct selection trials, announce the team and book flight tickets to Lahore,” commented the sources from Hockey India.

The Indian side maintains that based on the telephone conversations between Qasim Zia, president of PHF, and the secretary general of HI, the participation of the Indian team was contingent upon high level assurances of security prior to the beginning of the tournament.  It was also decided that if security clearance did not come in time, future dates would be announced for the tournament.  However, the required assurances did not come through.  Hockey India explained that they had to cancel because of the directive from the Ministry of External Affairs.

The ministry of external affairs has sent a communication dated April 3, conveying that in view of the security situation prevailing in Pakistan, the visit of the Indian hockey team would not be advisable unless backed by credible high-level assurances of security from Pakistan side,” said HI.

There still seems to be hope that another tour may materialize in the future as the Indians seem to be interested in playing Pakistan.  According to the chief coach of the Indian team, “It will be a good exposure for those who do not have enough international matches under their belt. There a few seniors in the team who can benefit by playing in this tournament.”

Pakistan is not dwelling on the disappointment from the four-nation tournament.  The Pakistan hockey team is scheduled to play two tournaments with European teams in June 2012.

(Image courtesy of Chris J Bartle)