Indian hockey team captain Sardar Singh has spoken out on the controversy surrounding the inclusion of Pakistani players in Hockey India League (HIL). Showing his support for the decision of Hockey India (HI) to ban Pakistani players, Singh has made his views clear by stating that they should not be included until they apologise for their offensive behaviour at the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar in December 2014.
In a statement, Sardar Singh, Indian hockey team skipper said, “Pakistani players are suffering a lot but what they did during the 2014 Champions Trophy was unacceptable. They still haven’t apologised for their behaviour so I feel they shouldn’t be allowed (to participate in HIL).”
HIL is the richest field hockey league in the world, featuring some of the best international players and top Indian players. Nine players from Pakistan were included in the first edition of HIL in 2013 but were forced to leave the tournament due to political protests against their inclusion. Since then, there has been no Pakistani participation in the last three editions of HIL. This year’s tournament is taking place between January 18 and February 21, 2016 and will have a total of 34 matches played across six cities involving six franchise teams.
The controversy started when Pakistani players made obscene gestures towards spectators after beating India 4-3 in the Champions Trophy semi-final held in Kalinga Stadium at Bhubaneswar. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) took notice of the indecent acts and issued a one-match ban to two Pakistani players Amjad Ali and Mohammad Tousiq, banning them from playing in the final. Another player Shafqat Rasool was let off with a reprimand.
Although the chief coach of Pakistan at that point in time, Shahnaz Sheikh apologised for the incident, Narinder Batra head of HI has insisted on an apology from the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) for Pakistani players to be considered for HIL. Additionally, even if an apology is issued, existing political issues between the neighbouring countries could become a hurdle for their participation.
Other HIL participants have remained non-committal on the issue. Kalinga Lancers’ German captain Moritz Furste and Ranchi Rays’ English skipper Ashley Jackson have said that players from all over the world should be allowed to play if possible. Furste commented that both parties must work together to sort the issue out and find a solution for the players. Jackson, who plays for the Ranchi-based team Ranchi Rays since the launch of HIL, supported Furste’s statements.