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January 8, 2000

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Back door entry for Champions

Cedric D'Souza

The Champions Trophy tournament slates the top six teams of the world, normally chosen from the Olympics or the World Cup, playing each other in a round-robin league format. The normal practise is that the team that finishes last in this tournament is left out of the next edition, with the seventh placed team from the Olympics or the World Cup replacing that team.

During the last edition of the tournament, in Brisbane last year, Pakistan had the ignominy of finishing last. Which meant that they were automatically out of the next Champions Trophy. However, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has surprisingly bent the rules and accommodated the former Olympic champions as the 7th team in this yearís competition, to be staged in Amstelveen, The Netherlands; subject to the host nation acceptance. However, one must quickly point out that this is only a formality and the host nation will not refute the FIHís suggestions.

One may ask: why?

At the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, Pakistan made a strong case for a backdoor entry. They said that they finished last at this year's Champions Trophy because of the experimental foot rule (play to continue even if the ball touches the foot, as long as it is unintentional) that was applied during the tournament. They also stated that as they were the founders of the tournament - and since 1977 have participated for 22 years without a break - they were entitled to some grace marks and considerations from the apex body who had overriding discretionary powers.

One hears about the fiasco that went on there in Egypt with regard to Pakistanís entry. I would like to quote Col. Asgar, secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation, to give the whole picture. "Pakistanís inclusion in the Champions Trophy was discussed by the FIH global task force, which refused to amend the rules for inclusion of a seventh team. Thereafter, it was discussed in the competitions committee, which also refused to contravene the rules. Then the FIH executive board also did not agree to the proposal for Pakistan's inclusion as a special case. Finally, the issue was discussed in the FIH council meeting - for 40 minutes Ė which voted in favour of Pakistan's participation with a majority of 18 votes to 11 in the house of 32. Three abstained from voting for or against. The voting was done by show of hands by the council members. The house accepted Pakistan's request in view of services rendered by this country for the promotion of the game over the years."

Now, if Pakistan's case was considered, then, may I ask, what about Germany? They have been a consistent top four finisher over the last decade or more. However after finishing last at the Champions Trophy in Pakistan in 1998, they were eliminated from last year's Brisbane Champions Trophy. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how they react to the FIH decision.

Surely, this really does not augur well for hockey. Whatever the reasons, the rules of the competition must stand and be equal for all teams. To bend the rules for Pakistan, or for that matter anybody else, only dilutes the value of the tournament. In my opinion, this controversial decision will trigger off a lot of disharmony within the FIH, which is bound to lose a lot of goodwill as also deter sponsors from coming forward.

Will not tempers be frayed and disbelief creep in when the FIH rejects similar claims of other teams in future? As we enter the next millennium, the FIH will need the support of all its member countries to fulfill the ambitious plans they have laid out vis-a-vis Vision 2000 and beyond.

Indeed, if this special waiver has been given to Pakistan, then why not India, Canada, Argentina or even Belgium? Remember, Pakistan did finish only third in the Asian Games, behind South Korea and India, so why can't the FIH accommodate India, the reigning Asian Champions, and Canada, the Continental Games champions? And, if Pakistan has been given a back door entry because of past performances, then what about India or any of the above mentioned teams? Doesn't India have an even richer history of winning gold after gold at the Olympics?

I do believe that Pakistan were able to achieve their objective mainly because of the rapport they share with the FIH and the effective lobbying by their representatives. There can be no doubt that that wily old war-horse Brig Atif, the chairman of the rules and executive boards and past secretary general of the Asian Hockey Federation for 16 long years, was the real brain behind the thrust in reinstating Pakistan into the Champions Trophy.

India has always been cribbing about non-representation in the FIH. We feel we have no voice in policy making - be it in the rules, competition committee, development etc. However, when there is blatant slant toward a team then should not the IHF take on the onus of standing up and fighting for what is right? After all, we must remember that hockey is an Olympic sport where equality, solidarity and camaraderie are the basic principles of the Olympic movement.

The IHF top brass - president KPS Gill and the secretary general Jyotikumaran - was present in Alexandria and it was Mr. Gill who endorsed Pakistanís appeal for its reinstatement. As much as I believe in camaraderie and that Asian hockey must be represented in all the major tournaments, I am convinced that Pakistan would not have returned the favour if India were in a similar predicament. In my opinion, it was a fitting and appropriate moment for the IHF to really make an issue with the FIH, score a few points and champion the cause of Indian hockey. But then, the IHF have never been good on that front.

Cedric D'Souza

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