CHENNAI: There is a one-in-three chance that the Indian men’s hockey team will square off against their Pakistani counterparts for a place in next year’s Olympics. This was confirmed by International Hockey Federation (FIH) through a press release on Thursday. India, currently seeded three among all countries yet to qualify, will face one of the bottom three teams yet to qualify (Egypt, Austria or Pakistan).
“The teams ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd will be drawn at random to play at home against one of the teams ranked 12th, 13th or 14th,” FIH said. “For example, the team ranked 1st will play at home against one of the teams ranked 12th, 13th or 14th, as determined by the draw.”
While India are seeded third currently and Pakistan are 13th, they may both move up a place when the final rankings are published on September 8. Australia, currently No 1 among all teams not qualified, will automatically qualify if they win the Oceania Cup tournament early next week. Even if this happens, India and Pakistan’s positions will not be affected. Irrespective of whoever India draw, they will play at home in a two-legged tie, likely to be held on November 1 and 3 in Bhubaneswar.
The one obvious headache FIH might face is if India draw Pakistan. Even though the Green Shirts travelled to Bhubaneswar to play in last year’s World Cup, the environment is different now. The political developments in Jammu & Kashmir have worsened diplomatic ties between the two nations.
There is also the obvious question of whether the Indian government will grant visas to the Pakistan team if they do get permission to travel. Earlier this year, a three-member shooting team were denied visas to take part in the World Cup in New Delhi, an event which also had Olympic quotas. International Olympic Committee (IOC) acted swiftly by cancelling quota places in that event (25m rapid fire pistol) and urged international federations to not give big-ticket events to India unless written assurances are obtained.
“This situation goes against the fundamental principles of the Olympic charter, in particular the principles of non-discrimination(...), that equal treatment must be guaranteed for all participating athletes and sporting delegations at international sports events, without any form of discrimination or political interference from the host country,” IOC said.
Since then, the Indian government has given written assurances, but the environment has changed in the last month. If the draw pairs India and Pakistan — it will be conducted on September 9 — it could have a direct bearing on what India decides to do with respect to travelling to Pakistan for the already postponed Asia-Oceania Group I Davis tie.
Meanwhile, the India women’s team will also be at home, and they will most likely face South Korea, Belgium, Canada or Canada for a spot in Tokyo. It’s expected that the men’s and women’s matches will be played back-to-back.