Before Pakistan hockey player Imran Butt (25) left for India on Saturday to participate in the inaugural Hockey India League his elder brothers Rehan (32) and Rizwan Butt (34) in Lahore briefed him about what its like to play in India where the passion for the game is incredibly high.
Ironically, a little over 48 hours later, the trio were once again in deep discussion after Imran returned to Lahore yesterday. Hockey India directed all the nine Pakistan players picked for the league to return home following unrest in the country over the recent killings of Indian soldiers on the border allegedly by Pakistanis.
“After hearing of the recent happenings in the news, my brothers were very concerned for my safety as this was my first visit to India. But I convinced them that it was a great experience nevertheless,” goalkeeper Imran, who was to represent Mumbai Magicians franchise, told MiD DAY from Lahore
The nine Pakistani players — Delhi Waveriders’ Mohd Rizwan Sr and Mohd Rizwan Jr, Mumbai Magicians’ Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Muhammad Tousiq and Butt, Ranchi Rhinos’ Muhammed Irfan and Shafqat Rasool and Jaypee Punjab Warriors’ Kashif Shah — received their contract fee in full before leaving Indian soil yesterday.
While Butt admitted to missing out on a great tournament, he felt it was India’s loss too. “What happened is unfortunate. It’s a political problem and sport has nothing to do with it. But this will not help the game in India and Pakistan. Just like we have missed out on the HIL, I think even the HIL will be poorer without us,” added the custodian.
On Sunday, over 100 Shiv Sainiks disrupted a training session of the Mumbai Magicians at the Mumbai Hockey Association Stadium, refusing to allow the Pakistani players to set foot on the turf in protest of the border tension. The four Magicians players, including Imran, had to be whisked away by security personnel from a back door through the neighbouring Wankhede Stadium premises as a couple of protesters even stormed the players’ dressing room in search of the Pakistanis. Imran however, remained unflustered despite the chaos.
“We were not one bit scared. Such incidents don’t scare us. We were just curious and excited to know what was happening because we never expected this,” said Imran, who is already looking forward to returning to India next year. “Hockey India took great care of us and ensured security was at its best. We respect the decision to send us back as it was taken in joint consultation with the Pakistan Hockey Federation. The only thing we feel a bit sad about is that we didn’t get a chance to travel around India due to the heightened security. But I’m sure we’ll be able to do so next year when we return for HIL 2014,” he said.