SECURITY CONCERNS LOOM OVER WORLD HOCKEY CUP IN NEW DELHI

ANISUDDIN KHAN
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Feb
22 - 28, 2010

Blast in German bakery in the posh locality of Pune, second biggest city of state of Maharashtra in the south of India has sent shivers down the spine of the organizers of the Hero Honda world hockey cup, which will kick start at Indian capital New Delhi on February 28.

The security threat to the mega hockey event a showpiece for Indian government could be imaginary and unreal but still the organizers are not taking thing for granted and has decided to mount a huge security net as the eleven teams start arriving in the Indian capital from next week.

Close to 19,000 security personnel including 200 gun-toting commodes and 1000 men of central paramilitary forces would be deployed during the championship which is being held second time in India. It organized the first world up in 1982 in Bombay in rather peaceful atmosphere.

Pakistan retained the coveted trophy at Bombay and when they land in New Delhi the green shirts would be looking for regaining the trophy that Pakistan donated in 1971.

Pakistan whose contribution to world hockey is unparallel was to host the inaugural competition at Gaddafi stadium Lahore in 1970 but when the political activists of PPP threatened to disrupt the championship if India was allowed to take part the championship was shifted to Spain where it was held in 1971 and Pakistan won that championship to get its name inscribed on the trophy donated by Pakistan.

Ironically it was Abdul Hafeez Kardar the cricket icon of Pakistan who led the protest and threatened to dig the grassy turf at Gaddafi stadium if India came to play.

Designed by Bashir Moojid of Pakistani Army, the trophy consists of a silver cup with an intricate floral design, surmounted by a globe of the world in silver and gold, placed on a high blade base inlaid with ivory.

Atop these are replicas of hockey stick and a ball. Hero Honda Motors, India's two-wheeler major which hosted this event also confirmed its corporate sponsorship of the World Cup 2010 tourney that is all set to bully-off on February 28 at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in New Delhi.

The remodeled and reconstructed stadium named after hockey icon Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium is the venue for 2010 hockey World Cup.

The spanking floodlit stadium was also the first Commonwealth Games venue which was completed and showcased to the world. The historic stadium, where the first Asian Games were held in 1951, will begin its new journey with the hockey World Cup.

Sports Minister of India, MS Gill, took a stroll down memory lane during stadiums' inauguration as he vividly described the sheer joy of watching Sahu Mewalal scoring the winning goal in Indian football team's 1-0 win over Iran at this very venue during the 1951 Asian Games final.

Built in 1933 as an amphitheatre, National Stadium was originally called Irwin Amphitheatre. It was renovated for the Asian Games in 1951 and later for the 1982 Asiad.

For those who haven't been to the 'original' ground, its slick new look would definitely be an attraction. One thing which will interest hockey fans is the fact that the view from the stands will be much better now.

The stadium has an international look with modem changing rooms equipped with sauna, massage, lockers and other facilities. Add to that plush lounge, modem media rooms, cafeteria and lifts and it surely compares with the best in the world.

It has cost India, a renovation cost, Indian Rs 262 crore. Spread over 37 acres, the stadium is centrally air-conditioned, fitted with lifts, two synthetic pitches and a third for practice.

The total capacity of the stadium is 16200 spectators which is far less than Pakistan's national hockey stadium which can hold 50,000 spectators. Pakistan's national hockey stadium was constructed to hold 1992 world cup in which Pakistan finished with silver medal behind Holland.

Pakistan hockey team is due to leave for New Delhi by road from Wagha Border on February 22 morning. The Pakistan Hockey Federation has hired bus that would ferry the green shirts to India. Pakistan is the only nation amongst the twelve that will be seen in action, that has won the trophy most four times 1971, 1979,1982,1994. No other country including favorites Australia, Germany and Holland have won the trophy that many times.

But currently ranked 7th in world ranking, Pakistan would find it hard to reach the semifinal from where they could launch their attack on the trophy.

Pakistan will be facing their staunchest rival India in the opening match on February 28 and if they overcome the hurdle they could dream of reach the semifinal.

Pakistan is in Group B along with Australia, England, India, South Africa and Spain. They play their first match against archrivals India on the opening day. Defending champions Germany, Argentina, New Zealand, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Canada form Group A.

Pakistan has sent an advance party to asses the security situation. The Pakistani and Australian security agencies along with officials of nine other participating nations - who had earlier raised concerns after the Pune blast and the subsequent HuJI threat - gave thumbs up to the security arrangements for the tournament which is beginning on February 28 at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

Top Delhi police cops said that the uncertainty over the tournament was now over. According to Delhi police sources, a team from 11 countries had come to the city to evaluate the security scenario in Delhi ahead of the World Cup and attended a presentation - on the four-tier security apparatus - made by Delhi Police.

"We are satisfied. We had concerns in two or three areas. The commissioner has assured that they will be addressed. Delhi Police has done very good planning," Pervez Bhandari from Pakistan said after the presentation.

The Australian delegation also expressed similar views with Deputy High Commissioner Lacklan Starhn saying that they were "very pleased" with the comprehensive security arrangements being made for the event.

"Proper assurances have been given. We are very pleased with the arrangements," Starhn said. The London Metropolitan police too had earlier expressed its satisfaction with the security arrangements. The tournament is being considered by Delhi Police as a "dress rehearsal" for the Commonwealth Games which will be held there later this year.

Not only security situation is a headache for Indian hockey authorities but it is also plagued by controversies in Indian hockey team.

Indian hockey has been rocked by yet another controversy with organizers of a charity event, on Saturday, claiming that the players demanded Rs 5 crore to feature in the matches, an allegation the national team members denied.

Hardeep Sandhu, a member of the organizer committee of AMR foundation, on Saturday, claimed that hockey players led by Prabhjot Singh, Rajpal Singh and Deepak Thaukar were demanding Rs 5 crore to play in the four charity matches of 15 minutes each featuring Bollywood and TV stars.

"AMR foundation had roped in 22 players to feature in four exhibition matches with Bollywood and TV stars but when yesterday one of the representatives of the organizers handed them the flight tickets from New Delhi to Chandigarh, a group of players told they don't want these tickets as they are not gaining anything," Sandhu said.

"Players said they were expecting Rs 4 to 5 crore from sponsorship. Now that not much sponsors are coming, they refused to play. The organizers are very upset as despite written agreement they are backing out," he added.

In the meantime Hockey Australia has there was no change in their plans to play in this month's Hockey World Cup, despite calls from team family members to boycott the event over terrorism fears.

The organization said it had been advised by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that there has been no change to the threat environment in India.

HA said it would continue to follow security protocols in relation to the players' safety in India, but "at this stage there is no change in our plans to participate in the 2010 Hockey World Cup".

"In line with Hockey Australia's process of assessing emerging threats and changing conditions, should the current situation change we would obviously reassess our position," HA chief executive Mark Anderson said in a statement.

New security fears surfaced after a bombing Saturday at a restaurant in the western Indian city of Pune, which killed 11 people.

The Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online news website added to concerns when it said this week it had received a warning from an Al-Qaeda-linked militant group about attacking sports events in India.

Parents of Australian squad member Kieran Govers said they had cancelled their plans to watch their son play in the Hockey World Cup in New Delhi.

The Hockey World Cup, being held in India after 28 years, will see the participation of 12 countries with around 400 players and officials. The last World Cup was held in India in 1982.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation was keeping a close watch on the security situation and had earlier requested the government to send a high-level security delegation to India despite International Hockey Federation (FIH) assurances of foolproof security.

"We have heard that Australia and England are bringing their own security personnel, so it would be better if we too take some security staff with us because we want a peaceful event," PHF general secretary Mohammad Asif Bawja said.

The participating teams are Australia, Canada, England, Germany, South Korea, Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, India, Argentina, Pakistan and New Zealand.

Teams in Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010, New Delhi, India, 28 February-13 March are India (Host), Canada (Champion of the 3rd Men's Pan American Cup), Korea (Champion of the 8th Men's Asia Cup), South Africa (Champion of the Africa Cup of Nations, 2009), Australia (Champion of the 6th Men's Oceania Cup), England (Champion of the 12th Men's Euro Hockey Nations Championship), Germany (Silver medalist of the 12th Men's Euro Hockey Nations Championship), Netherlands (Bronze medalist of the 12th Men's Euro Hockey Nations Championship), Spain (Fourth ranked team of the 12th Men's EuroHockey Nations Championship), Pakistan (Winner of the Men's World Cup Qualification Tournament - No. 1), New Zealand (Winner of the Men's World Cup Qualification Tournament - No. 2), and Argentina (Winner of the Men's World Cup Qualification Tournament - No. 3)