India-Pakistan tensions: From wrestling to hockey, sporting ties freeze over

Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit coming out from external affairs ministry in New Delhi on Wednesday.( Express photo by Anil Sharma)

THE MOUNTING tension between India and Pakistan, following the beheading of two Indian soldiers by a Pakistani border team on the LoC, has cast a shadow over sporting ties between the two countries. And this time, it’s not confined to high-profile cricket matches. On Tuesday, Pakistan alleged that their wrestlers were not granted visas for next week’s 22-nation Asian Championship in Delhi. On Wednesday, Pakistan Hockey Federation secretary Shahbaz Ahmed claimed that they were excluded from the ongoing Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia because of India’s pressure. According to Sports Minister Vijay Goel, the Indian government has decided to halt sporting relations between the two countries. “Terrorism and sports can’t go along together. The sporting relations between India and Pakistan can be cordial only after Pakistan stops sponsoring cross-border terrorism. India takes these things very seriously,” Goel said.

“We are not at a loss. Our decision to stop bilateral sporting ties with Pakistan will force Pakistani people to put pressure on their government to act against terrorism. The entire world knows that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism,” he said. Goel said he was aware of the Indian High Commission’s decision to deny Pakistani wrestlers visas for the Asian Championships even though officials of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) said they were unaware of any such move. A WFI official said they had informed the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs and Intelligence Bureau about Pakistan’s participation and were willing to take responsibility for the four-member contingent. “We had conveyed the same to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on Tuesday and even sent a sponsorship letter. If their visa is denied, they might not have completed paperwork from their end,” the official said.

Pakistan Wrestling Federation secretary Muhammad Arshad was quoted as saying by The Dawn that they had applied for visas 45 days ago. He said they would lodge a complaint with United World Wrestling, the world body, demanding that India be stripped of its right to host international events unless it guarantees visas to all participants. It’s a line other Pakistan federations are beginning to take as well. Pakistan hockey official Ahmed said the International Hockey Federation (FIH), too, should consider hosting global events at a neutral venue. India is scheduled to host the World League final this year and the 2018 World Cup. Both events will be held in Bhubaneswar.

”If Pakistan qualifies for these events, we expect that the FIH will ensure our participation. I don’t see any problem in that happening but to avoid complications and government interference, the FIH should host international tournaments outside India to ensure all countries can participate,” Ahmed told The Indian Express. The FIH is headed by former Hockey India president Narinder Batra. The Indian federation had taken a tough stand against bilateral relations with Pakistan after the 2014 Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar, where Pakistani players taunted the crowd after beating India in the semifinals.

Ahmed said Pakistan were not invited for the Azlan Shah Cup because of India. “We have been playing that tournament for the last 23 years so it was shocking that we weren’t invited this time. We have stood by Malaysia all through, so we can’t think of any reason why they did not invite us. It might be because India did not want us,” Ahmed said. India has, meanwhile, pulled out of next month’s Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia because of Pakistan’s presence. Over the recent months, visas have being denied to Pakistani sportsmen for international meets in other sports, too, such as kabaddi and squash.

In June, India and Pakistan are scheduled to face each other in cricket’s Champions Trophy and in the World Hockey League, both in England. Goel said the government cannot stop teams from playing in an international tournament at a neutral venue. ”We have the power to take a decision regarding bilateral ties. But we can’t avoid playing them in important international events that take place in other countries,” Goel said.


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