The junior hockey World Cup is less than a month away but Pakistan’s participation is still doubtful. International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) newly-appointed president Narinder Batra insisted that they have received a confirmation from the Pakistani board even though he said they have kept a couple of teams on standby.
However, Shahbaz Ahmed, the secretary of Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), said they are yet to receive clearance from their government to travel to Lucknow for the 16-team event. Owing to security concerns following the conflict at the Line of Control, the PHF had sought permission from the Pakistan government last month.
Ahmed said they expect a reply ‘within a week’ even as they began their visa procedure on Tuesday.
“It generally takes time to get such clearances. Because of the prevailing political situation, we needed our government to okay it. We expect our government to reply soon,” Ahmed told The Indian Express.
The former Pakistan captain said they had initially requested the FIH to keep their matches at a neutral venue.
However, they are not considering that option anymore. “It is too late to move matches to a neutral venue now. A month ago, we did discuss it but not anymore,” he said.
The last time a Pakistani side in any sport travelled to India was in December 2014, when the hockey team took part in the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar. Their kabaddi team pulled out of the world cup in October due to security fears following a series of protests against Pakistani nationals by political groups after the Uri attacks.
Batra said the FIH has ‘two or three’ teams has back up to replace Pakistan, but was confident that they will not pull out. “As far as FIH is concerned, Pakistan has confirmed its participation. But eventually the choice is with the governments of both India and Pakistan. In every FIH tournament, we always keep back ups ready in place. In case Pakistan doesn’t turn up, we have two-three teams in line to replace them,” Batra, who became the first Asian to become the FIH president last Saturday, said.
If they are given the go ahead by the Pakistan government, Ahmed said they will not send a team to review security arrangements in Lucknow. “Since it is an international tournament, we will leave the security aspect to the organisers,” Ahmed said.
Batra said Pakistan’s security and other logistics will be arranged only after they get the schedule and route of their arrival.
JSW bag HIL franchise
Meanwhile, the Hockey India League will have a seventh team from the 2018 edition onwards. Batra said Jindal Steel have acquired the Bangalore franchise but they have chosen to skip the 2017 season. JSW also own I-League side Bengaluru FC and Bengaluru Yodhas in the Pro Wrestling League.
“Initially, the plan was to introduce them in 2017 but Indian players were not available. They wanted to be competitive so it was better to wait for a year,” he said, adding that India will host the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy along with the World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
Meanwhile, Batra said he will quit other positions in hockey to avoid conflict of interest with his new role as the FIH chief. Currently, he is the president of Hockey India and Hockey Jammu Kashmir, vice president of Asian Hockey Federation, chairman of Hockey India League and associate vice president of the Indian Olympic Association.
“I am not aware of the rules regarding my position in the IOA but I will quit from the other three posts. New Hockey India president will be chosen as per our constitution within the next one month,” he said.
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