Pakistan players lose place
Pakistani players Rashid Mohammad, Mohammed Tousiq and Fareed Ahmed, members of HIL franchise Mumbai Magicians, practice at the Dhyanchand National Stadium in New Delhi on Tuesday. The three are among the nine Pakistani hockey players sent home. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt | The Hindu
Mumbai Magicians' owner Amit Burman.

The simmering discontent between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the killing of two Indian soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC) took its toll on the two-day-old Hockey India League (HIL) on Tuesday as national federations in both the countries paved the way for the franchisees to find replacements for the nine Pakistani recruits.

The worst-affected team was Mumbai Magicians featuring four Pakistani players – Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Muhammad Tousiq, and Imran Butt. The side will play its first match against Delhi Waveriders at the National Stadium here on Wednesday.

Amid uncertainties throughout the day, Magicians, which had shifted to Delhi earlier than scheduled after its first practice session in Mumbai was disrupted by Shiv Sena’s protest, trained with its Pakistani players at the National Stadium in the morning and evening.

However, by evening it was clear that they were unlikely to take part in the event. Waveriders, which did not field its Pakistan imports, Mohammad Rizwan senior and junior, in its first match, also trained without them.

Kashif Shah (Jaypee Punjab Warriors) and Muhammed Irfan and Shafqat Rasool (Ranchi Rhinos) are the other players from the neighbouring country hired by different teams.

On a day when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a strong message that there “cannot be business as usual” with Pakistan, Hockey India (HI) secretary general Narinder Batra, in a statement, indicated that the Pakistani players might be replaced.

“HI and Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) on Monday mutually decided that due to an extraordinary situation and not to put any mental stress on any player which may affect his performance while playing for their respective teams, all the franchises be allowed to exercise their rights for replacement in regard to nine players from Pakistan, from the reserve pool of players,” Mr. Batra said.

“The interest of the players will be fully protected, the full contracted amount for the respective player from Pakistan for 2013 will be cleared and HI stands guarantee for this payment,” he said.

Overall, the team owners had spent a total of 155,000 dollars on buying the Pakistanis in the HIL auctions held last month. Magicians’ coach Ric Charlesworth was furious with the development.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Charlesworth said he was hugely disappointed with the development.

Unfair on team, says coach

Mumbai Magicians’ coach Ric Charlesworth, who has to find replacements for the four Pakistani players, told reporters here on Monday that it was “totally unfair” on his team that four of its best players were being sent off a day before its first match.

“They are very disappointed, they understand the situation. They have been wonderful in our team. The players want them to play.”

The legendary Australian said sport should be kept beyond politics. “When sport is above prejudice, it is wonderful. When it is part of underlined prejudice, it is terrible.”

Asked whether the whole issue could have been handled in a better way, he said, “Who knows! Maybe you are unlucky with timing. Pakistan played here cricket a week ago and Pakistan women are here. Are you going to stop them? Where do you go and how do you build relationship with neighbours when this goes on and on. As long as I have been alive, the Kashmir issue has been there. I am sorry for what has happened. When I was the age of these boys, I was protesting against apartheid. This is the same thing by another group.”

Mr. Charlesworth said he would have quit had it involved only him. “We are hugely disadvantaged but we will make a contest out of it. My instinct would be I would not be part of this, but there’s a lot of staff involved and there’s a lot we have put into.”

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