Pakistan Hockey team to ‘play for peace

KARACHI: Pakistan’s hockey chiefs on Saturday gave the go-ahead for their team’s visit of Delhi for the World Cup after India guaranteed a “presidential-level” security cover for the Pakistanis.

A top Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) official told ‘The News’ that the national team will fly for Delhi on Monday (tomorrow) to feature in the 12-nation World Cup after a security plan presented by the Indian authorities assuaged Pakistan’s concerns.

“They (India) have told us that our team will get VVIP security that is generally reserved for visiting heads of state,” said Asif Bajwa, the PHF secretary. “We were briefed about the security plan by our delegation which visited Delhi and everything seems fine.

“The Delhi police chief has personally assured the delegation that our players will be given the best possible security cover. Our High Commission (in New Delhi) has also expressed its satisfaction about it,” he added.

Pakistan had raised security concerns about participating in the World Cup which will be held in Delhi from February 28 to March 13. Their hockey officials feared that an “anti-Pakistan sentiment” prevailing in India after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 could pose a threat for their players in Delhi.

Bajwa, who will travel with the Pakistan team as its manager, said that his boys will be playing for peace in India.

“Sports is all about peace,” he said. “We hope that our visit of India will in some way help improve relations between the two countries,” stressed the former Olympian.

Bajwa said that his team is hoping that the entire nation will back it to do well in the World Cup, a tournament which Pakistan last won in 1994.

“We are hoping that the entire nation will support us and pray for the team to come out with good results in the World Cup,” he said.

Pakistan, who have been dogged by the uncertainty surrounding their participation in the World Cup, play their first match of the quadrennial spectacle against old rivals India in about a week’s time.

However, Bajwa said that the uncertainty has not affected his team’s World Cup preparations.

“The boys have been completely focused and are now fully prepared for the World Cup,” he said.

Pakistan will play a couple of practice games in Delhi before their potentially-explosive World Cup opener against India on February 28. One of the warm-up games is against defending champions Germany. “The warm-up matches will provide us with some good opportunities to try out a few combinations before the real test begins,” said Bajwa. “We hope to us them well.”

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