Can there be anything worse than qualifying for a World Cup or an Olympic Games and then not being allowed to participate?
We saw this in Hockey with South Africa’s men’s and women’s teams who qualified for Rio by the approved route, but the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee overruled that qualification method, and opted not to send a team. New Zealand took their place in the men’s event, and Spain the Women’s.
Today it was announced that Pakistan’s Junior Hockey team, who won silver at the Junior Asia Cup to qualify for the event in India, would not be participating, and their place had been handed to Malaysia.
In a press statement from the FIH today it stated that the “FIH’s decision follows considerable discussions with the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) and requests for confirmation that they had the necessary arrangements in place to be able to participate in the event.”
“Visas had been applied for after the official deadline and no accommodation was confirmed within the set deadlines. Despite a number of correspondence and reminders, the PHF was not able to show that their team would be able to travel to Lucknow for the event which begins in only a few days’ time.”
Regrettably in Pakistan there is already a feeling that this is an underhand move to deprive their team from participating by their Indian neighbours, which is certainly not going to help matters. If there was already tension between India and Pakistan, it is now going to be exacerbated as accusations fly, including that the host nation, India, refused to issue the team visas and that was why they did not have the required paperwork.
Pakistan, which for so long was vying to be top dog in hockey has fallen a long way in recent years. Their team failed to qualify for the World Cup two years ago, and also for the Rio Olympics for the first time ever. The youth is their only hope of climbing back up the tree, and hockey benefits from Pakistan being strong, so too do their arch rivals India. As with the two rivals both being strong it creates far more mouthwatering games when they do meet.
The FIH has found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. They obviously want to see Pakistan competitive and they would be well aware that the junior side is the first step on that comeback path. Yet they have commitments to broadcasters, and so must deliver a tournament with the full compliment of teams.
No doubt back in Pakistan questions will be asked as to why the Pakistan Hockey Federation failed to confirm the accommodation, and why they did not apply for visas sooner. Sadly however it is never going to give the young men who earned the right to compete the chance to prove what they could do on the World stage. Some of them will never have that moment again. Not only is it soul destroying for the players, but also the coaching staff who have worked tirelessly to make these players competitive and instil a belief that they can compete with the best in the World irrespective of the results achieved by their senior counterparts.
Should and could more have been done to ensure their took their rightful place? No doubt we will hear in time, but it is a very sad day for all concerned, and clearly a full investigation into the situation leading up to the team being replaced needs to be launched, if only to put to bed the current accusations.
Sadly there are no winners in this situation.