Monday, February 15, 2010

Security a World Cup killjoy

Comment by Jugjet Singh

ONLY 12 days from today, 12 of the world’s best hockey teams will lock horns in the New Delhi World Cup at the newly refurbished Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

There can never be clear favourites in a World Cup, as even India and Pakistan coaches have set themselves steep semi-finals targets, knowing well that in the last two World Cups, the only Asian team to reach that level was South Korea.
But that is to be expected from the most ardent arch-rivals in hockey, and to prove a point, India and Pakistan will clash on the first day, at prime India time 8.30pm.
The Stadium was originally built in 1933 as a multipurpose stadium and named the Irwin Amphitheatre. It was renamed National Stadium before the 1951 Asian Games, and Dhyan Chand’s name was added in 2002.
The main pitch has a capacity to seat about 16,200 spectators and is expected to be filled to the brim when India and Pakistan clash. The second pitch has 900 permanent seats and with a provision of 1,600 temporary seats.
So who is Dhyan Chand Singh?
Dhyan was a legendary centre-forward who helped India win three Olympic gold medals in 1928 Amsterdam, 1932 Los Angeles and 1936 Berlin.
Overall, in the three Olympic tournaments, Dhyan had scored 33 goals.
And India’s highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is the Dhyan Chand Award which has been awarded annually from 2002 to sporting figures who not only con tribute through their performance but also contribute to the sport after their retirement.
Such was his legacy, and his legendary dribbling skills that the present India hockey players will find it almost impossible to emulate his achievements.
However, his stadium will see some strict security mea sures in place for the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, as New Delhi is on high alert after a bomb blast in Pune on Saturday.
Now, armed policemen will be traveling in team buses of the 12 teams with Pakistan and Australia receiving maximum security cover.
There will also be police escort when players move to and from the stadium to the official hotel, which is barely two Kilometres apart, and whose 240 rooms have all been booked for the teams,
On a personal experience, the 2004 Junior Asia Cup in Karachi was also a security nightmare for this scribe, as Malaysia were in the same hotel with India.
There was maximum security at the entrance, with the Army almost barricading the hotel like a fortress. The Pakistan Army had also stationed one sentry at every floor, and all items taken in and out were thoroughly screened.
And when Malaysian team consultant Paul Lissek went for his morning jogs along the streets of Karachi, he was escorted by two Army personal wearing full gear and armed with M16s riffles.
But the saddest part was that the hockey stadium, which was in the middle of an Army camp, was void of spectators because of security reasons. The public was barred while the selected few who had clearance to enter, were subjected to thorough security checks everyday.
India beat Pakistan in the final then, but less than 50 people watched them play, with even the India Press missing from the stands as they never showed up for the tournament.
Malaysia finished fourth and qualified to play in the Rotterdam Junior World Cup, but strict security measures took much of the fun out of the tournament.
Hopefully, when India and Pakistan clash in the opener, the Dhyan Chand Stadium will be filled to the brim, and not emptied in the name of security.