Making A Difference

Mismatched Contentions

Pakistan's denial of visas to the Indian hockey team has a diplomatic spillover

Mismatched Contentions
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A senior PHF functionary said he received a fax message from Pakistan's High Commission on December 24, saying that the IHF had been able to finalise 13 players and that the remaining three names would be intimated later. It so happened that December 25 was a holiday. The PHF maintained that the complete details of the teams should have been in at least a week earlier. "Most of the countries taking part in the tournament had done so, except for India," PHF Secretary Mudassar Asghar said. "Teams had to arrive in Pakistan on December 26 while the Indian squad was not even finalised till that day. Therefore, it had become impossible for us to entertain them so late with so many formalities yet to be completed."

This was stoutly denied by IHF Secretary K. Jyothikumaran, who said that after talks with Asghar on December 26 it was decided that the Indian team would leave forPakistan on December 28. Even the Indian High Commission in Rawalpindi had been informed about the team's impending arrival. The denial of visas on December 27 thus came as a bolt from the blue, he said.

Meanwhile, a section of the PHF believes that the Indian authorities probably wanted to avoid sending their team to Pakistan: "Only days before Pakistan's senior team had been battered by India 5-3 in the SAF Games hockey final. A defeat in Pakistan would have spoiled the joyous mood in India." That, however, seems unlikely given that the Indian team underwent strenuous training at camps in Chandigarh and Delhi. IHF President K.P.S. Gill has even gone on record saying the team was "a disappointed lot as they were well-prepared and raring to go". He reiterated the Indian position that the tour was cancelled as the Pakistani External Affairs Ministry held back permission without citing any reason.

For its part, the Foreign Office in Islamabad denied that the Indian team was not allowed visas because of security reasons: "It was only a month ago that the Indian soccer team was in Pakistan to play an Olympic qualifier. There was no problem in providing security to the players." An official of the Interior Ministry said that Pakistan had a certain visa policy vis-a-vis India: "There is a certain procedure which both countries have to follow. In this particular case, the fact is that the Indians deliberately or otherwise delayed their applications."

Incidentally, another team which is not participating is Egypt, whose government cited security reasons. Just weeks earlier, the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad had been blown up by Islamic militants in a suicide bomb attack.

The authorities in Islamabad clarified that there was no political reason behind their high commission's inability to issue visas in time. "It was the IHF which got things badly mismanaged," said a PHF official. The senior official believed that one reason for the delay could have been the Indian Federation's preoccupation with the SAF Games which had concluded just days before the World Youth Hockey Festival.

India was scheduled to play its first match on December 31. In all, 12 teams were to take part in the under-18 hockey tournament. Six teams each were divided into two pools, A and B. But with India and Egypt out, the draws had to be revised. According to the tournament directors, C. Hernandez and W. Doyer, in order to ensure two equal groups of five nations in the hockey festival, the Malaysian team was transferred to Pool B. As a consequence, the result of the match between Kenya and Malaysia was deleted and it was regarded as not having been played. But as the 10 remaining teams fight it out for the trophy, India's absence is bound to be sorely felt. For, nothing enlivens a sports extravaganza in the sub-continent as much as an Indo-Pak encounter. 

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