NEW DELHI: ATIF Waheed? Unsold. Nasir Ali? Unsold. Wasim Sajjad? Unsold. Hassan Raza? Unsold. Ibrar Hussain? Unsold. Hassan Ali? Unsold. Arslan Ahmad? Unsold. Muhammad Imran? Unsold. Usman Zada? Unsold. Akhlaq Hussain? Unsold.
On a day when the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) officially became the biggest India-based nouveau league in terms of number of teams (12), there was one over-riding theme — how would the team owners welcome players from across the border.
The answer was resounding. They wouldn’t be. Even as Charu Sharma delivered an inclusive sales pitch on what the Pakistani players would bring to the table during the pre-auction press conference, the damage was done earlier on Monday in a different part of the city. Sports Minister Vijay Goel, while addressing the press during a meeting on Scouts and Guides, pretty much sounded the death knell. “They (the organisers) can call them but they can’t make them play,” Goel said about the possibility of Pakistanis getting visas. “Even if they are selected, it’s the government of India which will decide whether they are allowed or not. Unless Pakistan gets rid of terrorism, it’s impossible to play with them.”
The government’s stance with Pakistan since the Pathankot attacks early year has strained sporting relationships. It was kabaddi which started the whole farrago. The Pakistan team was supposed to play in the World Cup in October last year but their names disappeared almost overnight. Since then, hockey players, squash players and wrestlers have all been denied visas. That looks set to continue as diplomatic relations have worsened in recent weeks thanks to the Kulbhushan Jadhav affair.
One team owner who spoke before the auction was coy when asked whether his team would buy players from Pakistan. “I’m not going to reveal strategy because if I say I want to go for X, other owners could deliberately drive up the price.” Right now, that seems to have been a choreographed quote, rehearsed in front of the mirror. This was after Sharma confirmed that owners would get an option to pick an alternate if the government doesn’t grant Pakistanis visas.
Indian players sympathetic
Interestingly, another group in the sport’s fraternity wants them to play. The Indian players. Rahul Chaudhary, retained by Telugu Titans and one of the stars of the World Cup, said he wouldn’t have been offended by their presence. “Well, the nation is different and the league is different. As far as the league is concerned, I think players from everywhere should come and play.” India skipper Anup Kumar went a step further. “If we play with them, it’ll be better for our sport. If their players are missing, then it affects the overall nature of the competition. The loss is for us players and the federation.”