New Delhi: The simmering tension on the Indo-Pak border today spilled over to the sporting arena with a rattled Hockey India deciding to send back all the nine Pakistani players taking part in its high-profile league following protests over the killing of Indian soldiers.
After protests by Shiv Sena and other right-wing organisations disrupted the training and the first match of the league, Hockey India took the decision to send back the Pakistani players considering the "extra-ordinary circumstances".
"After discussion with all the stakeholders, the Hockey India and Pakistan Hockey Federation have mutually decided to send them (Pakistan players) back due to an extra-ordinary situation which has arisen," Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra told reporters here.
"We kept all stakeholders the franchises, PHF and HI in the loop during these discussions. We took all on board before making this decision. All have approved this decision. The contract money for 2013 will be paid in full to the Pakistani players and HI stands committed in guaranteeing the same.
"We and PHF have mutually decided to release the players so that they do not feel the mental stress and their performance is not affected," Batra added.
Batra said that the franchises, who had to release the Pakistani players, were free to seek their replacements.
"We will give the right to franchises which own Pakistani players that they can ask for replacements. They can select from the reserve pool within their allocated budget," Batra said.
HI had initially decided to send back the Pakistani players of Mumbai Magicians franchise only but fearing that the league could be affected by disruptions, it took the decision to send back all the players.
The nine players who would be sent back are Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Muhammad Tousiq, Imran Butt (Mumbai Magicians), Mohammed Rizwan Sr. and Mohammad Rizwan Jr. (Delhi Waveriders), Kashif Shah (Jaypee Punjab Warriors) and Muhammed Irfan and Shafqat Rasool (Ranchi Rhinos).
The league ran into rough weather after the killing of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistan Army on January 8 in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir.
Mumbai Magicians, based in Mumbai, became the obvious target because of its large number of Pakistani recruits and the presence of right-wing outfit Shiv Sena's stronghold on the city.
Over 100 Sena workers had protested against the participation of Pakistani players in the Mumbai franchise and disrupted the scheduled practise session on Sunday. This prompted the team management to shift base to Delhi.
On the inaugural day, two supporters from Hindu Yuwak Sabha attempted to invade the turf at the National Stadium, the venue where the opening match between Delhi Waveriders and Punjab Warriors was on yesterday.
The Mumbai team is scheduled to play its first match against Delhi in the capital tomorrow. Their first home match in the tournament is scheduled for January 20, against the Punjab team.
Mahmood Rashid was the most expensive of the Pakistani players with a price of USD 41,000 (approx Rs 22.32 lakh) while Tousiq went for USD 27,000 in the auction.