‘Let bygones be bygones’ was the motto of the hockey loving crowd of Odisha’s capital city as it forgot the Pakistan team’s offensive behaviour four years ago and cheered the neighbouring country when it played its first match of the Hockey World Cup against Germany at the Kalinga Stadium here on Saturday night.

It was another Saturday, on December 13, 2014, when Pakistan defeated arch-rival India in a Champions Trophy semifinal contest at the same venue to silence the home supporters. What happened at the end of the match was shocking as some Pakistani players burst into ugly celebrations, taking off their jerseys and making obscene gestures at the crowd.

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The angry spectators reacted angrily and booed the Pakistan team not only on that evening but also on the following day when the Green Shirts played the final against Germany. The Germans felt at home and benefitted from the partisan backing of the spectators to outplay Pakistan and emerge as the champion.


Members of the Pakistan team took off their shirts in celebration after the team's win over India at the Champions Trophy in December, 2014. Photo: AFP


The International Hockey Federation (FIH) suspended two Pakistani players, Muhammad Tousiq and Ali Amjad, and reprimanded one, Shafqat Rasool. Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh apologised for the incident which had generated some bitterness between Hockey India and the Pakistan Hockey Federation.

New spirit

Anxiety was in the air when Pakistan returned to the Kalinga Stadium pitch for its World Cup campaign. However, the friendly crowd of the Temple City showed a lot of maturity to forget the four-year-old ugly episode and applauded the Green Shirts whenever they displayed their brilliance on the turf.


The Pakistani players were happy in the hospitable atmosphere. “People were supportive here. Ever since we have landed in Bhubaneswar, we have received warm reception. We were at a mall last week and people expressed their love for us,” said captain Muhammad Rizwan.

The Pakistani players also distributed tickets to some people of Bhubaneswar when they had been to a local mosque to offer namaz on Friday. Irfana Qureshi, an ardent hockey lover from the city, put things into perspective. “Bhubaneswar celebrates the sport and cheers any team that plays good hockey. The Pakistan team had apologised for that incident and had come to the ground with flowers. By appreciating Pakistan’s game, the spectators accepted their apology,” said Irfana.