New Delhi: India captain Sardar Singh on Thursday supported Hockey India's (HI) stand of not allowing Pakistani players in the cash-rich Hockey India League (HIL) until and unless they apologise for their unruly behaviour during Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar in December 2014.
Two Pakistani players -- Muhammad Tousiq and Ali Amjad -- were handed a one-match ban while Shafqat Rasool was reprimanded by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for making obscene gestures after their team's 4-3 win over hosts India in the Champions Trophy semi-final.
Following the final hooter, excited Pakistani players took off their shirts and made rude gestures towards the Indian fans and the media at the packed 7,000-capacity Kalinga Stadium.
Though then Pakistan chief coach Shahnaz Sheikh apologised for the incident, HI boss Narinder Batra has repeatedly demanded an apology from the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).
Now, as the fourth edition of the HIL is set to commence on Monday, once again the debate has begun whether sportspersons should be kept above bilateral differences.
The highly talented players from across the border were part of the first edition of HIL in 2013 but had to leave India before the start of the tournament following protests from some political organisations. Since then, no Pakistani has played in the six-team tournament.
Now, Sardar, who will captain Jaypee Punjab Warriors this year, also asserted that Pakistan must tender an apology before its players can be allowed to play in HIL.
"What they did during the Champions Trophy was unacceptable and until and unless they apologise for their misbehaviour they should not be allowed," Sardar said during the trophy unveiling ceremony of HIL 2016.
Though HI remains steadfast on its contention that misbehaviour during Champions Trophy was the reason for its objection, strained ties between the south Asian neighbours may have a lot to do with it.
Taking the debate further, Kalinga Lancers' German captain Moritz Furste and Ranchi Rays' English skipper Ashley Jackson felt that, if possible, the organisers must find a way out so that all good players come and play in the league.
"HIL is a great event in the world of hockey. In my personal view, players from all over the world should be allowed to play, if possible. I am not much aware of the politics and other things. They (both parties) must find a solution for all players," said 31-year-old Furste, also a member of the German Olympic Confederation.
Jackson, who is playing for Ranchi-based teams since the first edition of HIL, echoed Furste's opinion.
A retired school teacher, Amir Hasan, recalled how in 1996 when the Patna High Court took cognizance of rampant cheating in the state, only 12 per cent students could pass the board exam.
"Whenever authorities act tough in exams, the pass percentage falls drastically," he said.