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.

Women prepare for Asian Games

THE national women’s hockey team have set a semi-finals target for the Asian Games in China, and a New Zealand Tour is on the cards to strengthen the side.
“Even though semi-finals is a steep target going by the rankings of India, South Korea, Japan and China, I believe the team is in good shape and will impress in the Asian Games,” said Malaysian Women’s Hockey Federation (MWHF) secretary S. Shamala.
And the Kiwi Tour is also a milestone: “This is the first time that a women’s team will go on a Tour of New Zealand to prepare for the World Cup Qualifiers and also the Asian Games. Previously, we had to be contended with training at home.” The women will play seven matches in New Zealand from March 6-16, with three matches against the senior national side, two against NZ juniors, and two against a club side.
And as a warm-up to the Tour, the women played five matches recently against a visiting Pyeongtaek CT Korean Club Team where they won all the matches.
The national side won three matches 1-0, 4-1, 1-0 and then 3-2 and 2-1 even though the Korean club side had flew down six national players for the last two matches.
“After we won three games, the club brought down their six national players for the remaining matches but we still won.
“The Club was the 2009 champion of the Korean National Tournament, and it was a great achievement for our play ers,” said Shamala.

Armed policemen to escort teams

New Delhi, Feb 14 (IANS) Armed policemen will be travelling in team buses of 12 countries participating in the World Cup hockey tournament starting here Feb 28. Pakistan and Australia will get the maximum security cover.
In a bid to prevent a repeat of the terror attack on Sri Lankan cricket players in Lahore last year, armed policemen will escort the players when they move to and from the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, where the matches will be played.
The stadium, in the heart of the city, is located barely two kilometres from the Le Meridien hotel, whose 240 rooms have been booked for the teams.
'The players will travel in normal buses, not bullet-proof vehicles,' a senior officer dealing with the security of players told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Asked about the possibility of an attack like on Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan, the officer said: 'India and Pakistan are different countries. As of now, no intelligence agency has reported any threat to the hockey World Cup. But we are taking precautionary measures.'
Besides two-three armed officers who will travel in the buses with the players, there will be a police escort ahead of the players' bus, said the official.
Although the government does not want to generate needless fears, it is equally determined to ensure that nothing goes wrong since any mishap will cast a shadow on the larger Commonwealth Games in October.
The teams from Pakistan as well as Australia -- where Indian students have come under racist attacks -- will get maximum security cover, officials told IANS.
The hockey World Cup takes place once in four years. The participating countries this time are Argentina, Canada, Germany, South Korea, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, England, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Spain.
Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said: 'We are taking the World Cup as a dry run for the Commonwealth Games. It will be a full-fledged rehearsal where multiple agencies will coordinate and work hand in hand to prevent any untoward incident.'
(Sahil Makkar can be contacted at