Mumbai Magicians’ training with entire squad called off

Mumbai Magicians’ first training session with the entire squad in attendance at the Mumbai Hockey Association (MHA) stadium was called off on Sunday afternoon owing to protests.

About 100 people, shouting anti-Pakistan slogans and waving placards, staged a protest inside the stadium against the presence of Pakistan hockey players in the Hockey India League (HIL).

The protest comes in the wake of the ceasefire violation across the Line of Control, including the beheading of an Indian soldier and attempt to mutilate the body of another.

The Pakistan players in the HIL were issued visas on Friday and they arrived on Saturday.

Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Imran Butt and Mahmood Tousiq are the Pakistanis in the Mumbai Magicians franchise, one of the five sides featuring in the inaugural HIL, starting in New Delhi from January 14. Midfielder Rashid is a key team member along with goalkeeper Butt.

According to MHA secretary Ram Singh Rathore, the four players were moved out of the hockey stadium through the back entrance and driven to the team hotel.

Mr. Rathore said, “After the four were quietly escorted out of the stadium, the protesters were told that their concerns were addressed.”

2 Sainiks checkdressing room

Two members of the protesting Shiv Sena group went into the dressing room and having assured themselves that there were no Pakistanis present, dispersed. They said the remaining players could resume training.

It is learnt that the protesters entered the stadium, located adjacent to the Wankhede Stadium, after the Mumbai Magicians players were in the dressing room, getting ready for the first training session with the entire squad. The protesters planted flags on the fence adjacent to the playing arena, shouted anti-Pakistan slogans and carried placards. It is learnt that one of the Indian members on the Mumbai Magicians team was asked if he was from Pakistan.

Coach leaves in a huff

Mr. Rathore said, “When chief coach Charlesworth was informed about the protesters’ stand about starting training, he felt there was no point in doing so without the full squad and said the four Pakistanis were key members in his scheme of things.”

A furious Charlesworth boarded the team bus and left the venue. His reaction was understandable as the Sunday afternoon session was the first training with the Australian coach having the full squad present. Nine Pakistan players have been signed up for the HIL. Apart from the four in Mumbai Magicians, others are Mohammed Rizwan Jr., Mohammed Rizwan Sr (Delhi Wave Riders), Sayeed Kashif (Punjab Warriors), Mohammed Irfan and Shafaqat Rasool (Ranchi Rhinos). Mr. Rathore confirmed the presence of police at the MHA, when the players, including four Pakistanis, arrived for training. “As per procedure, when international sportspersons are present, the police are informed.” He said reinforcements were called in after the protest.