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India pulls out of hockey event in Pak

Lahore/New Delhi: India has pulled out of the three-nation international hockey tournament in Pakistan after its External Affairs Ministry refused permission on security grounds, forcing the Pakistan Hockey Federation to call off the event. Malaysia, the third team in the tournament proposed to be held in Lahore from April 9 to 13, had withdrawn two days back.

PHF secretary Asif Bajwa told a press conference in Lahore that the Indian hockey authorities informed that their foreign ministry had advised them not to send the team to Pakistan due to security concerns. "It`s with deep regret we have to announce that India has said it can`t send its team for the competition," Bajwa said.

"We had completed all arrangements and were expecting a final nod from the Indian Hockey Federation regarding the travel plan of their side but to our surprise they informed us that their government had not granted permission for the team to visit Pakistan due to security reasons," he said.

"The Indian foreign ministry feels security situation in Pakistan are not ideal for international hockey, that is why India is not coming," he added. Hockey India, however, said in a statement in New Delhi that it was keen to take part in the tournament but had been advised by the External Affairs Ministry not to travel to Pakistan "unless backed by credible high level assurances of security from Pakistan side".

"Ministry of External Affairs has sent a communication dated 3 April 2012 conveying that in view of the security situation prevailing in Pakistan, the visit of the Indian Hockey team would not be advisable unless backed by credible high level assurances of security from the Pakistan side," the HI statement said. HI said that it had selected the team for the tournament and even booked flight tickets for the players only to be advised not to send the team by the External Affairs Ministry.

"India`s participation in this tournament was approved by the Steering Committee of Sports Ministry last month and HI conducted the Selection Trials at Bangalore on 16 and 17 March 2012 where the Pakistan bound team with the captain and vice-captain was announced. The flight tickets to Lahore were also booked immediately thereafter," it said.

"In view of pending mandatory Ministry of External Affairs and Home Ministry clearances, telephonic conversations took place between Secretary General Narinder Batra and PHF President Qasim Zia on 2 April and it was decided that if no clearances came before the departure of team to Lahore, then fresh dates from 14-21 April would be considered for this tournament," it added. The two countries have not been engaged in any major bilateral sporting event, including cricket series, since the Mumbai terror attack in 2008.

Bajwa contended that this was the second time since 2009 that the Indian team had refused to come to Pakistan. "In the last two years, we have been to India several times and have invited them to come to Pakistan and assured them full hospitality and security. Unfortunately neither the Indian federation nor their government has responded to us in the same way," Bajwa said.

"It is a very unfortunate decision for hockey in the region as Pakistan-India matches are always billed as thrillers and attract record gatherings," he said. Citing security concern as a reason not to send the team is not "valid and justified" as the Pakistan government had given an assurance to the Indian side regarding the safety of the team, he said.

"We discussed (security) at the highest level on both sides and making it an excuse not to send their team comes as a big shock for us," Bajwa contended. He said that after Malaysia`s withdrawal the PHF was hoping for a test series against India. "We were hopeful that we could at least host Test series with all matches planned in Lahore," he said. The PHF, Bajwa said, has not given up hope and will again discuss the issue with Indian authorities to review their decision and to send their team to participate in future events in Pakistan.

The tri-nation tournament was part of PHF`s efforts to revive international hockey in Pakistan and the federation will work on other options to host similar events, he said. "International hockey returned to Pakistan in December with the visit of a Chinese team. The tour by China showed that there were no security issues for international teams playing in Pakistan," he said. "We will organise the Asian Club championship in October, followed by the indoor Asian Cup in Islamabad in November. We believe these two events will help in bringing back international hockey to Pakistan."

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