Moments after staging a protest at the Mumbai Hockey Association’s stadium yesterday against the participation of four Pakistani players at a practice session of the Mumbai Magicians team, Shiv Sena told MiD DAY that they had nothing personal against the country but were unhappy with the recent goings-on at the border where Indian jawans were killed by their Pakistani counterparts.
“We have no personal fight against Pakistan, but neither do the slaughtered soldiers in a time of peace. Support our soldiers, or why make them protect our borders?” Sena spokesperson Rahul Narvekar told MiD DAY yesterday.
A group of over 200 Sainiks yesterday raised flags and slogans in the MHA stands as the Mumbai Magicians one of the franchises of the inaugural Hockey India League that begins in the country today began a training session that included four of their Pakistani imports Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Muhammad Tousiq and Imran Butt.
MHA president Manga Singh Bakshi explained, “There was no aggression from the protesters. They simply said that they won’t allow the four Pakistanis to practice but had no objection to the other players practising. To this, Mumbai Magicians’ coach Ric Charlesworth said there was no point continuing the training without the Pakistani players, and so the practice was called off.”
The players had arrived in the city around 10.30 pm the previous night and were whisked away to the team hotel by a waiting police vehicle, citing security issues. The Pakistani players inevitably sensed that there was something wrong somewhere. “Obviously the cops knew that there was the possibility of a problem, that’s why they didn’t let us spend even a moment on our own outside the Mumbai airport yesterday. But we never expected this,” one of the Pakistani players told a member of the team management last evening.
Pandurang Sakpal, the Shiv Sena Vibhag Pramukh of south Mumbai who led the agitation yesterday told MiD DAY, “I along with over 200 Sainiks undertook a protest morcha at MHA. We won’t let any Pakistani play on our land. As our leader (Uddhav Thackeray) has categorically mentioned that no Pakistani should be allowed in Mumbai, we are following those orders. Playing games won’t improve relations between India and Pakistan. We can’t let in Pakistanis in Mumbai and Maharashtra while our soldiers are being killed at the border. We can’t let this shameful event take place.”
Both Hockey India, organisers of the tournament, and the Mumbai Magicians franchise refused to offer a comment on the issue. Meanwhile, the MHA has approached the local police station to ensure that the Mumbai Magicians match to be held at MHA on January 20 goes on smoothly. “One of our office bearers have approached the cops and they have assured us that they will increase protection for the January 20 match,” said Bakshi.
‘We should not mix sport with politics’
Meanwhile, former Pakistan captain Rehan Butt, whose youngest brother and Mumbai Magicians goalkeeper Imran is among the four Mumbai players, is fearing for his kid brother’s life. “What has happened in Mumbai is very sad. We should not mix sport and politics. I played last year in a similar World Series Hockey league in India and there was no problem. This is Imran’s maiden visit to India and I’m scared for his safety. I’ve not even been able to speak to him over the phone as he is yet to procure an Indian SIM card. I hope he is safe and I hope the Indian government will look into this issue seriously and increase security for the visiting players and ensure this tournament progresses smoothly,” Rehan told MiD DAY from Lahore.