Pak hockey players benched, women cricketers may shift to Ahmedabad

The trouble between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control has spilled on to the sports field as well.

A day after the Shiv Sena protested against the participation of Pakistani players in the Hockey India League (HIL), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was Monday planning to shift the Pakistani women's team's world cup matches from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. The Women's World Cup (WWC) is to be held in Mumbai from January 28.

In Delhi, HIL's opening game between the Delhi Waveriders and Punjab Warriors saw Pakistani players from both teams warming the bench. Delhi team sources said that just half-an-hour before the match, senior HI officials told them not to include Pakistani players. However, it was described as a preventive measure and a final decision on their participation will be taken in a few days.

With no game scheduled for Tuesday, HIL stakeholders are expected to go into a huddle. It is learnt that HIL president Narendra Batra is expected to travel to Mumbai soon to meet Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray in an effort to defuse the crisis. However, Mumbai Hockey Association Ltd secretary Ram Singh Rathor said the Mumbai Magicians' home games wouldn't be shifted despite Sunday's protest by the Shiv Sainiks.

Tuesday will also see the BCCI dealing with a similar situation at the board's working committee meeting. BCCI president N Srinivasan will take a final call on the change in the WWC itinerary.

It is reliably learnt that tournament director Suru Nayak will suggest Ahmedabad's Motera Stadium as the Pakistani women's team's home venue for the league games. "The BCCI is fully aware of the situation and they are in touch with Ravi Sawani and Mumbai Police. Ahmedabad is the nearest option we have and they have recently successfully hosted the men's team also. A final call will be taken by Srinivasan," a top BCCI official told The Indian Express.

According to the current schedule, the Pakistani team will arrive in Mumbai on January 26 and play its league games at the MCA-Bandra Kurla complex, which is a few kilometres from the Thackeray residence.

Monday also saw the Shiv Sena getting some unexpected support from the Congress, the ruling party in Maharashtra. Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi justified the Sena's protests against the participation of Pakistani players, attributing it to the prevailing anger in the country over last week's killing of two Indian soldiers.

"There is anger in the country. They are expressing it differently. The Shiv Sena is also angry. I can't say their anger is not justified but together with josh (passion), there should also be hosh (reason)," Alvi said.

Asked whether Pakistani players should be allowed to play in the hockey league, he said: "It is for the government to decide."

The Congress has taken an aggressive stance vis-a-vis Pakistan since the killing of the soldiers, saying India's patience is "running thin" and "our protest this time should be the last protest".

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