If the international hockey federation (FIH) has its way, India and Pakistan may be playing each other as part of a series of bilateral matches in Oman in 2019.
The FIH is introducing a new world league in 2019, replacing the biennial Champions League, which will have teams from the top eight countries playing a series of matches on home and away basis. The winner and runners-up of this tournament will qualify for the corresponding World Cup or Olympics.
With teams reluctant to travel to Pakistan citing security concerns, the FIH has proposed Oman as a neutral venue for their ‘home’ matches. The India versus Pakistan matches, as part of this new competition, are being offered to generate interest for the new league. FIH hopes that such matches will be telecast to over hundred countries and help in spreading the sport.
The idea of Oman capital Muscat as a neutral venue for Pakistan’s ‘home’ matches was mooted by FIH president Narinder Batra, who was on a visit to the Sultanate of Oman this week.
“The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is actively considering Oman as the neutral venue for India-Pakistan matches with the Sultanate acting as the home venue for security-concerned Pakistan,” the Oman Daily Observer said in a report.
“The idea is to have Pakistan’s home matches in Oman. Under the present circumstances, the foreign teams are unwilling to tour Pakistan due to security concerns. So it is better we find a neutral venue for Pakistan and Oman suits well to that option with its interest and following in hockey,” the newspaper quoted Batra as saying in an exclusive interview.
“Eight countries will visit Oman to play Pakistan and India-Pakistan matches will be the highlight of the matches,” he said.
The home and away series is an ambitious project of the FIH and is expected to promote more bilateral exchanges between top countries. Unlike cricket which thrives on bilateral matches, such ‘test matches’ in hockey don’t have official sanction and are not part of the international federation’s calendar.
This proposal by Dr Batra projects a major shift in stand by the FIH chief who as Hockey India president had broken bilateral ties with Pakistan and vowed not to revive test series between the two countries till Pakistan Hockey Federation formally apologised for the alleged indecent behavior by its players after their win against India in the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar in 2014.
India last played Pakistan in a bilateral series in 2006 when the two countries hosted three matches each. Since then the two countries have met only in multi-national competitions organised by international bodies, the last such clash coming in the Asian Champions Trophy in October 2016.