Pakistan withdraw stars out of new India league

Nine Pakistani players were on Tuesday withdrawn from a new field hockey league in India and asked to return home in the wake of protests following border tension between the arch-rivals.

None of the Pakistanis featured in the opening match of the Hockey India League (HIL) in New Delhi on Monday and officials said they will not take part in the entire four-week event.

"Due to extraordinary circumstances, it has been decided to send the nine Pakistan players home," Hockey India chief and the league's main organiser Narinder Batra told reporters in New Delhi.

"The interests of the players will be protected and they will be paid the full fees due to them. It was a mutual decision between us and the Pakistan Hockey Federation."

The 34-match HIL, sanctioned by the sport's world governing body, features top stars from around the world playing for five city-based franchises till February 10.

The cities in the fray are New Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Ranchi and Jalandhar.

Four Pakistanis, Mahmood Rashid, Fareed Ahmed, Muhammad Tousiq and Imran Butt, were hired by Mumbai. The others were Mohammed Rizwan senior and Mohammed Rizwan junior (Delhi), Kashif Shah (Jalandhar), and Muhammed Irfan and Shafqat Rasool (Ranchi).

Trouble began on Sunday in Mumbai when the city's franchise was forced to cancel its team's practice session after protests from the right-wing nationalist Shiv Sena party.

The entire squad, coached by Australian Ric Charlesworth, shifted base to New Delhi as league organisers speculated whether Mumbai could host the six matches allotted to it, the first one scheduled for January 20.

"I have no idea what will happen, but it will not be easy to play the matches in Mumbai if the Pakistanis are there," Mumbai Hockey Association official Ram Singh told AFP earlier on Tuesday.

Tensions between India and Pakistan were heightened last week by a series of cross-border exchanges in disputed Kashmir in which four soldiers were killed. India says that one of its soldiers was beheaded.

Meanwhile, media reports on Tuesday said the women's cricket World Cup, scheduled to be played in Mumbai from January 31 to February 17, could be affected due to Pakistan's participation.

The Pakistani women are due to play three matches in the preliminary league of the eight-nation event and at least another four if they advance to the second round.

The Indian Express newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying Pakistan's matches could be moved to Ahmedabad, which last month hosted a one-day international between the men's teams of the two nations.

There was no immediate comment from the International Cricket Council on the report.

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