When lines of battle were crossed on the pitch

Time stands still as India and Pakistan battle it out on the pitch. It’s not just a sporting rivalry. Sport becomes a blood sport with a nation’s prestige at stake. The culture, history and “idea of ​​a nation” have shaped the rivalry, escalating it into a hyper-volatile and hyper-nationalistic spectacle.

The recent brawl between India and Pakistan, involving India head coach Igor Stimac at the 2023 SAFF Championship, was a stark reminder of how fierce the mother of all rivalries can be. People are familiar with the infamous clashes on the pitch between cricketers like Gautam Gambhir and Kamran Akmal in 2010 or Venkatesh Prasad and Aamer Sohail at the 1996 Cricket World Cup. But there have been some similar cases outside of cricket as well.


The split may be 75 years old, but the ice hockey rivalry between India and Pakistan reflects the international ties between the two and at times underscores the prevailing divided opinion.

As Indian ice hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr said: “Niaz Khan, AIS Dara, Shah Rukh, Mehmood and Aziz saw us [at the 1948 London Olympics], but I was surprised to see that our old friends kept a deliberate distance from us. The openness of the past was gone.” With that, the cornerstones of the extremely hypernationalistic ice hockey rivalry were laid.

Exhilaration leads to obscenity – 2014

It was the semifinals of the Champions Trophy 2014. India and Pakistan drew 3:3 in an exciting game. With less than two minutes remaining, Pakistan’s Arslan Qadir scored the last-minute winner to make it 4-3, shaking the hearts of India. While the adrenaline was still high and Pakistan was in high spirits, the Pakistani ice hockey players made use of making obscene gestures towards the crowd. The players took off their jerseys and showed their middle fingers to the Indian fans at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.

The Pakistan ice hockey team celebrates their triumph over India in the semi-finals of the 2014 Champions Trophy.

The Indian men’s ice hockey team was furious. Shortly thereafter, Muhammad Tousiq and Ali Ajmad were suspended by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and few others were released with stern warnings. As a result, India decided against hosting a bilateral series against Pakistan unless a formal, unconditional apology was issued by the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF). That apology never came through.

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The gross and unacceptable incident also resulted in Pakistani ice hockey players being banned from participating in the Hockey India League. Then-India ice hockey team captain Sardar Singh supported the decision. He stated: “Pakistani players are suffering a lot but what they did during the Champions Trophy 2014 was unacceptable.” They still haven’t apologized for their behavior so I don’t think they should be allowed to HIL to participate.”

The PHF alleges that in 2016, out of revenge, Hockey India intentionally refused to issue visas in time for the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships in Lucknow.

Gurbaj Singh left in the lurch – 2011

At the 2011 Tri-Nations Ice Hockey Tournament in Australia, India secured a comfortable 3-0 lead at half-time. Pakistan turned the game on its head with two consecutive goals from Sohail Abbas and the final blow came from Pakistan captain Shakeel Abbasi. Soon the mood boiled. India’s Gurbaj Singh was involved in an altercation with Pakistani players Syed Imran Shah and Shafqat Rasool and the altercation escalated into a physically violent altercation with flying bats and hockey sticks. In addition, Pakistan team manager Khawaja claimed that Pakistan ice hockey player Mohammad Imran was additionally attacked by a spectator.

As a result of the heated battle, Shah and Rasool sustained injuries and Gurbaj Singh walked away with two stitches. The game was eventually abandoned and not resumed. Singh was suspended for three games.

India’s Gurvinder Singh Chandi and assistant coach Jugraj Singh were also suspended for five games. Tushar Khandker and the team’s physiologist David John, who acted as reserve coach for the game, were handed a one-game ban along with Pakistan captain Shakeel Abbas.

After the verdict, the Indian team claimed bias in the decision-making process, repeating that the Pakistani team was the instigator of the brawl. A HI official explained: “It started, as usual, with their players using offensive language and mocking our players. Our players also tried to injure themselves. Our players retaliated and soon things got out of hand.”

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A World Cup to remember… for the wrong reasons – 1990

When we talk about tempers on the pitch, it’s not always limited to the players. The experience of the Indian men’s ice hockey team at the 1990 Ice Hockey World Championships in Lahore is an example.

During their games in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Lahore, bottles, bricks, slippers and other objects were hurled at the Indian team during their game. The Indian team were left with no choice but to walk out of the game and were offered the option to abandon the game.

The olive branch is the end of duality, the mother of all rivalries. Indian soccer team is greeted with rose petals in Lahore to play three games in the first soccer series between India and Pakistan in 2005. In contrast to the reception in Lahore 15 years ago. [Picture Credit: Getty Images, Arif Ali]

But coach MP Ganesh refused to give his boys the easy way out. Amidst a tumultuous crowd in Lahore, the game went on. However, conditions were extremely hostile and a psychological war ensued. Despite the hospitality of the Pakistani authorities and the Pakistan ice hockey team, the Indian team was not allowed to leave their hotel or training center due to the turbulent atmosphere. India finished last in the group stage, securing only a draw.

Former Indian ice hockey player and then captain Pargat Singh stated: “The incidents of stones being thrown at us even in the stadium demoralized the team. The atmosphere was terrible and hockey obviously wasn’t the priority for those who came to our games. They clearly intended to disrupt us and their plans indeed succeeded.” Other Indian players such as Dhanraj Pillay described Lahore 1990 as the bitter experience of their career.


The incident between India and Pakistan at the 2012 Asia Kabaddi Cup in Lahore was similar to the recent brawl at the SAFF Championship. In both incidents, the Indian team’s coach stopped the flow of play, arguing that the officials had acted unfairly.

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In a thrilling and close final, the Indian team felt the referee’s decisions were consistently against them. The Pakistani team simultaneously argued that Sukhdev Singh of the Indian team broke the rules of the game by attempting to attack their territory twice in a row.

As frustration mounted, Indian team coach Goormel Singh paused the game by repeatedly entering the Kabaddi circle to challenge the referees’ decision-making. The Pakistani team began protesting Goormel’s repeated meddling, leading to heated arguments. To make matters worse, Goormel was shown a green card by the referee for his “constant interference in pitch matters”.

For the Indian team, this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. With six minutes left, they walked out in protest at the green card and the “unfair” administration that had preceded it. The Kabaddi Federation came to the consensus that India had lost the game. With a score of 40-31, Pakistan celebrated in front of their home crowd to be declared champions of the Asia Kabaddi Cup for the first time.


It was a semi-final encounter between India’s Harinder Pal Sandhu and Pakistan’s Nasir Iqbal at the 2016 South Asian Games. The high-risk match was physical from the start.

Early in the match, Sandhu injured his lip when his chin touched Iqbal’s shoulder. Shortly after, Sandhu crashed into Iqbal’s back, prompting the referee to declare “excessive contact” between the two. Sandhu was vocal in questioning the referee’s decisions throughout the game.

Sandhu and Iqbal left nothing behind the glass doors of the squash court. Every point was earned with blood, sweat and adrenaline as the crowd joined the athletes. The referee noted that the athletes “became physically active too soon” and had to intervene to try to calm them down.

The game went to the end, but in the middle of the fourth game, Sandhu pulled his Achilles tendon. Iqbal and the Pakistani team initially refused any medical treatment for Sandhu, saying it was a time-wasting tactic. But Sandhu couldn’t go on. He shook Iqbal’s hand and the game ended abruptly, the score being 7-11, 14-12, 7-11 and 6-6 (6-11).

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