LAHORE: The city district administration, Sports Board Punjab and even the Punjab government are not bothered by the hue and cry that has erupted over the damage inflicted on the National Hockey Stadium (NHS), Lahore.
The world’s largest hockey arena, which last hosted the 1990 Hockey World Cup Final, the 2004 Champions Trophy, January 2018 World XI and Hall of Fame event and also hosted the Haier Hockey Series Open in December 2018, has a capacity of around 45,000.
But now it is facing its worst disaster ever. Its synthetic turf was scrapped to accommodate a political party’s power show. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by a former sportsman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has selected the stadium for its Azadi Jalsa today (August 13).
According to the manufacturers of turfs, normally, an extensively used and well-maintained artificial turf lasts for around 10 to 15 years. But the turf at the National Hockey Stadium, which was installed in July 2017 at the cost of Rs50 million then, has passed just five years with no major international tournament organised at the venue in these years. But, as claimed by the Punjab sports minister and the Sports Board, it needed to be changed as it was worn and torn, which is wrong. The minister’s claim that the turf was laid some 10 years ago at Rs40 million is also incorrect.
Punjab Sports Minister Malik Taimoor Masood asserted that the turf was being replaced and so was the claim of Sports Board Punjab Director Syed Umer Hasan, who stated that a summary for AstroTurf change has been prepared. “A summary for the replacement will be submitted within a week. AstroTurf will be imported and installed over a few months.”
The director also claimed that the district administration gave permission for the rally in the hockey stadium and there was no involvement of the Sports Board Punjab. Even PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry clarified that the AstroTurf at Lahore’s Hockey Ground, where the party will be holding a rally on August 13, was not being scrapped, rather it was being replaced with a new one.
But Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF)’s acting secretary Haider Hussain made it clear that the NHS pitch and the venue were under the control of the Sports Board Punjab (SBP). He said that the PHF has nothing to do with the ground which comes under the control of SBP and the PHF has to seek permission to hold activities there. He refrained from further comments.
If the claim of installation of a new turf is taken seriously, two issues arise. The new turf would cost a minimum of Rs65,000,000 but the type needed to be used would cost more than double the lowest quality turf, keeping in view the rising dollar rate. The cost to replace a standard size artificial turf hockey field ranges somewhere around $250,000–$460,000 depending largely on the factors listed for the new installation of a turf field.
The second factor is that there is a ban on imports, so the NHS would not get a new turf immediately after its removal and the turf that has been removed will have to be reinstalled. But keep in mind that the same turf laying standards would not be there; it would become loose and carry furrows.
Former hockey Olympian Manzoorul Hasan expressed his concern over the move of the Punjab government and said that the national sport, already at its lowest ebb, would further sink. “It is wrong to say the turf was quite old and not fit for a game. Last month, the Chief of Army Staff Inter-Club Tournament was played on it and the players enjoyed the game without complaint,” he added.
It will be the first time that a public meeting of a political party will be held at the NHS. In 1974, former Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi addressed a public meeting at the Lahore Cricket Stadium, which was later renamed Gaddafi Stadium, when he was in Lahore to attend the Islamic Summit.
Even a legal notice by the Federal Law Minister Atta Tarrar to the chief secretary Punjab, commissioner Lahore and DG Sports Board on the matter of removing the AstroTurf did not prevent the PTI’s power show.
The PTI, which during its term in power at the Centre, left thousands of sportspersons and officials jobless, is not bothered by the harm it has done to the sport and the venue. But it is ardent to grind its own axe while the departments that fall into the Punjab government’s ambit are taking orders like puppets to please their gods.
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