India hockey legend Zafar Iqbal calls for inclusion of Pakistan players in HIL, pitches revival of IND vs PAK series

Jul 13, 2023 06:48 PM IST

Legend Zafar Iqbal urged for the inclusion of Pakistan players in Hockey India League and also asked for the revival of India vs Pakistan series.

Indian hockey legend Zafar Iqbal on Thursday pitched for Pakistan players to be allowed to compete in the Hockey India League (HIL), which is being revived after a gap of seven years. HIL is set to return in a new avatar next year or in early 2025 with Hockey India setting its sights on reviving the franchise-based league. The HIL, which was suspended in 2017 due to financial issues and non-cooperation from team owners, is expected to be held after the Paris Olympics and will feature an event for the women as well for the first time.

Anurag Thakur with hockey legend Zafar Iqbal.(Jitender Gupta)
Anurag Thakur with hockey legend Zafar Iqbal.(Jitender Gupta)

Zafar, a member of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning hockey team, said on the sidelines of the unveiling of the glittering Asian Champions Trophy (August 3-12 in Chennai) at the Major Dhyanchand National Stadium that there was also no harm in reviving the India-Pakistan hockey Test series, which was held on a home-and-away basis till 2006.

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HI has requested the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for a window to conduct the HIL next year and is awaiting a response from the world body. Asked, when a fresh beginning was being made, shouldn't Pakistan players be allowed in HIL, Zafar said, "Yes. I think, in sports, there should not be any politics."

Nine Pakistani players were part of the first edition of HIL in 2013 but had to leave the country before the start of the tournament following protests from a few political organisations. But after that, no Pakistan player was included till the tournament was discontinued in 2017. Asked if the traditional India-Pakistan hockey Tests should also be revived, he said, "I think so because there is hardly anything (differences among players). This is the political issue.

"How far I am true or not but the fact is that in sports we should not differentiate," said the 67-year-old hockey great, who was also a member of the two silver medal-winning sides at the Asian Games in 1978 Bangkok and 1982 Delhi.

Asked if he was all for Pakistan players to come to India, he said: "Yes, because people of our country also want to see how they are playing and how they compare with our team. Because, after all, Pakistan was a part of India before, no doubt about it."

Zafar also said that Indian hockey players should also play in Pakistan. "I am sure they (Pakistan players) should be invited; they should play here and we should play there also. That barrier should not be (there), but (again) I do not know about the political situation. It depends on the Government of India how it it takes it, but as far as players are concerned there should be no barriers," he added.

Hockey India president and the senior team's former skipper Dilip Tirkey, when asked if his federation will open the doors for Pakistan players in HIL, said, "We will discuss the issue. Our committee will deliberate and decide on it."

Asked for his personal opinion, he said, "There are lot of things which (need to be sorted)".

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