The recent cross-border conflict between India and Pakistan has had an impact on the inaugural edition of Hockey India League (HIL) which began on Monday. While Shiv Sena workers have protested against the participation of players from across the border, several others feel sportspersons only bridge gaps and should be allowed to play freely.
A number of players from Pakistan are participating in the HIL - a new and exciting format - but Shiv Sena workers feel they should be sent back. "Our leader Uddhav Thackeray has said that no Pakistani player, either a cricket player or hockey player should be allowed to play in India. We are opposed to this. We don't want them here," said one of the workers on Sunday after Mumbai Magicians - with four Pak players - was forced to cancel their practice session due to protests.
While their argument is that sports cannot be played with players from a country which has its soldiers killing Indians at the border, former sportspersons say athletes play a constructive role and should not be targeted this way. "Koi bhi khiladi ya kalaakar jo sarhad paar aaye, woh logo ke dil mein pyaar bharta hai (Any player or artist who comes from across the border can only fill hearts with love)," said former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu. Sidhu is the brand ambassador of HIL.
Former hockey player Jugraj Singh too says that players build bonds. "Players hamesha jorte hai, torte nahi hai. Toh jorte hai unka samman karna chahiye, jo torte hai unka apmaan karna chahiye(Players always build, they do not break. We should respect those who build and insult those who break)," he said.
Interestingly, while Pakistan cricket team recently came to India for a bi-lateral series after a gap of several years, the hockey players have crossed over for tournaments on several occasions - Commonwealth Games 2010 and World Series Hockey being the most prominent in the list of events attended.