India likely to clash with Pakistan in Olympic qualifiers

The qualifiers are likely to be held in the last week of October; a payment of $15000 in the nick of time has allowed Pakistan to be part of the Olympic qualifiers.

Pakistan Hockey Federation had been fined approx $50,000 for pulling out of the Pro League but was allowed to pay the amount in three instalments.   -  FILE PHOTO/PTI

A payment of $15000 in the nick of time has allowed Pakistan to be part of the Olympic qualifiers later this year and with it, the possibility of an India-Pakistan clash for a spot at the Tokyo Games has become all too real along with hosting concerns.

Pakistan Hockey Federation had been fined approx $50,000 for pulling out of the Pro League but was allowed to pay the amount in three instalments, the first of which was to be paid by August 20 for the team to be eligible for the qualifiers. The International Hockey Federation has confirmed to Sportstar that it had received the said amount.

“We can confirm that Pakistan has paid the first instalment in accordance with the deadline given. Therefore, in case Pakistan qualifies for the FIH Hockey Olympic qualifiers, then yes, they will be included in the draw,” the FIH stated.

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This makes the draw interesting with both teams at the two ends of the ranking spectrum and a likelihood of drawing each other for the two-match tie. The draw process for the qualifiers is simple: the top-three ranked sides would be drawn against the bottom three from among the top-14 teams. Teams ranked 4-7 would be drawn randomly against teams ranked 8-11. While India is ranked 5th currently, Pakistan has slipped to 17th in the world.

Removing the continental champions – Belgium, Japan, South Africa, Argentina – and including Australia as the Oceania Cup champion (a best-of-three series against New Zealand), will push India up to second in the list of teams for the qualifiers while Pakistan would be up to 12th. A New Zealand victory would still keep India third and in line for a Pakistan face-off. Austria and China are the other two possibilities.

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While the FIH refused to comment on the political situation in the sub-continent, it would be a concern given that the higher ranked team would be hosting the tie. Hockey India has insisted there would be no bilateral ties but participation in FIH events would not be affected. Pakistan had also travelled last December for the World Cup. But it would be interesting to see how it handles the situation given that in this case, it would be technically an FIH event but practically a bilateral.

The qualifiers are likely to be held in the last week of October.

A neutral venue would be logical and favourable for Pakistan but India would be loathe to do that.

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