Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey has said that the national men’s team will travel to Pakistan for qualifiers in case it fails to directly qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics by winning gold at the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games, starting September 23. The team winning the continental event gold shall receive direct berth in the quadrennial extravaganza as per rule but other nations need to play the qualifiers and this time venues identified are Pakistan and Spain.
“We will be trying to get the job done in Hangzhou. But, if for some reason, we fail to qualify, then there are a couple of venues that have been identified for the qualifiers – Pakistan and Spain. So, wherever it happens, we will definitely go,” he said during a media interaction on the eve of the tournament on Wednesday.
Travelling to Pakistan requires government clearance and it is there to be seen what will be the centre’s stance in case situation demands that national hockey team is needed to travel to Pakistan to play the qualifiers.
When weighed upon if the players were risking themselves to injury by playing Asian Champions Trophy, just weeks before heading to China, Tirkey said that one can pick up niggles even during training or warm-up games.
“The most important thing to note is that we play practice matches before every major event. Don’t we have the fear of getting injured then? So, I think we should take this event on a positive note as a medium of preparation, and it is also a competitive event.” “There is still quite some time, over a month, left for the preparations for the Asian Games. Injuries can happen even during practice matches. So, I don’t think we should be too bothered by it and focus on delivering our best here.” Chennai is witnessing the return of competitive international hockey for the first time in 16 years.
When Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development Udhayanidhi Stalin was asked about it, he said, “One of the main reasons was that after the (Men’s) World Cup (earlier this year), I requested to the International Hockey Federation (FIH) that we have a very good stadium here and that we want to bring the international event here. And I want to thank them.” Replying to the same question, Asian Hockey Federation CEO Mohammad Tayyab Ikram came up with a humorous reply.
“As to why it took so long for Chennai to have international hockey was that we were waiting for this dynamic leader (Udhayanidhi) to come over to us. And, as to why now is because he is here,” he said in jest.
Tirkey also opened up on the matter and remarked, “For the past few years, a few cities are being developed into high-profile hockey centres, including Odisha, which has the best facilities right now. Earlier, quite some Indian cities used to be prime hockey centres with championship matches and tournaments, which also included Chennai.” “I have myself featured in some of the competitions in Chennai. So, our focus has been on reviving the former hockey centres of India. Chennai had a lot of craze in terms of hockey back at the time and we will always aim to make things better here with the help of the Tamil Nadu government.” Concerns were once again raised in regard to the scheduling of the competition just five weeks before the Hangzhou Games. However, Tayyab opined that a month-long time would be enough for the teams to prepare for the Asian Games.
“One month is more than a month that you need to prepare for a competition. And, I say this from a high-performance point of view that most of the coaches are happy to be a part of it. There is only one person who you cannot satisfy who has already made other plans.” “If you think that this Champions Trophy will not help, and all these six teams should stay at home before the Hangzhou Asian Games, I’m sorry to say that it will not happen. Some of these sides will play even after the Champions Trophy, including some Test matches.” “So, I think this is very well fitted for the preparation of the Asian Games. You are playing most of the main competitors and aiming for a better 2024 (Paris Olympics) qualifying position.” The existing penalty corner rule has been up for debate lately and there have been speculations regarding tweaking the rule a bit.
When asked for the rationale behind it, Tayyab clarified that it was still in its trial stage and is mainly being done keeping in mind the players’ safety.
“In the last few years, we were suggested that the speed of the ball (during the current penalty corner system) is a bit out of control. Also, considering the protection of the players and the protective equipment, it is just a trial. Let this thing go on trial first. But, you will not see a surprise element in this,” Tayyab said.
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