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 March 5, 2002 | 1600 IST

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Pakistan accuse umpires of bias

Jaideep Singh

Pakistan has touched world hockey's raw nerve by coming out in the open, accusing blatantly biased umpiring in favour of European teams, albeit it happened after their hopes of making the World Cup semi-finals evaporated due to apparently harsh officiating aimed at one side.

Germany beat Pakistan 3-2 in a crucial Pool A match on Tuesday and denied the Asian hockey power a place in the semi-finals. Pakistan team manager Brigadier Khalid Sajjad Kohkhar was left fuming after the match. He claimed the European umpires were biased against Pakistan.

"I have lodged a protest," he told the post-match news conference.

"We had a goal disallowed, a penalty stroke not given and the yellow card was wrong. It is because of the umpiring that Pakistan has not qualified. We had biased umpiring when we played Holland (Pakistan lost 2-1) but today they went past all limits," he said.

Asian hockey for long has cried out aloud, citing unfavorable amendments to rules to curb its supremacy. And when that wasn't enough, the world hockey bosses, who inadvertently all come from Europe, brandished another weapon -- umpires who did not like a certain section of players.

Partisan umpiring, done by handpicked officials posted for key games, has repeatedly derailed Asian teams, who were charged for irritating umpires to an extent that the whole community was against them.

European teams, backed by the power wielded by the FIH bosses, often find amenable umpires from different continents, but Asian teams have to do with harsh decisions.

Protests and reviews notwithstanding, the Euro-centric bosses in the FIH ensured that no umpire was ever reprimanded for facilitating a European surge.

Alas, world hockey has lived with these biases, even if the Asian countries often asked an uncomfortable question: "Do you even want us to play?"

Asian teams -- especially the erstwhile World champions from the sub-continent -- are needed to grace the occasion, to attract the crowds and to help the European hockey powers to display their prowess on the global stage. But the bias would never go, the FIH's power equations ensure that.

"Germany played with 13 players today," said the Khokhar, accusing the FIH powers of belittling the oft-repeated phase of 'fair play', which over the past several decades has had no place in world hockey.

"The way they (the umpires) acted today, there should have been criminal charges framed against them. They crossed all limits," screamed Khokhar, but his words certainly fall on deaf ears.

What left Khokhar's blood boiling was a negated goal in the 59th minute of play that kept Pakistan in the arrears and ensured Germany suffered no hiccups.

Given Germany's clinically defensive style, Pakistan anyway had just a glimmer of chance to force a two-goal win that would have taken it ahead of Germany in the ground standings, but given Khokhar's accusations they came up against an impregnable fort.

"They umpires were bent on controllowing our moves from the beginning. They simply refused to allow us to play. They won't let the ball move," Khokhar alleged.

"Our players were stopped from initiating moves. Every time we had a free hit, our players were asked to move the ball back, which some times was just by a foot," he charged.

It doesn't take a great hockey tactician to realize these tactics are often used to allow defenders to fall back when caught off-guard.

"And the German players were allowed to play the ball from anywhere they wanted," Khokhar said.

Precisely. That's the name of the game.

The hockey world would wait and watch what acting the review panel would take against the two umpires -- Clive McMurray of South Africa and Jason McCracken of New Zealand -- against whom a formal protest has been lodged.

If past experiences of Asian teams is to be believed, they are tipped for an elevation in grading.

A toast might be raised at the headquarters of the Brussels-based world hockey body, with plenty of backslapping to ensure the charge of the European brigade.

"I realize the result of the game will not be reversed, but I hope something will be done," said the Pakistan team manager. "These people are ruining the game and something must be done. Otherwise, we may as well give up playing."

Haven't we heard this from Asian teams before! And, has it ever made a difference?

"Why can't we have an Asian umpire officiating?," asked the Pakistan manager. "It would at least provide some balance."

But then where are the Asian umpires? Sub-continental umpires have perished from the scene, as national federations forgot to elevate enough people amidst their petty politicking.

The moot question doing the rounds at Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil stadium on Tuesday was: "Did German coach Bernhard Peters realize what had actually happened, as he tried to sidetrack the umpiring question?"

Peters, a good talker otherwise, said, "I did not concentrate much on the umpires. There are some good ones and some bad ones."

"The best one at the current World Cup," Peters confessed, "was a South Korean."

Thank-you, Peters. The point is well taken.

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