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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | FIELD HOCKEY : INDIA vs. PAKISTAN

Archrivals Deluxe : Scoreless Tie in Field Hockey May Have Been the Best Thing for Both Teams

July 27, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — It was a tie that felt like a loss, but looked like a triumph.

India and Pakistan, two of the world's most bitter rivals in everything, battled to a scoreless draw Friday in an Olympic field hockey match at Morris Brown College.

Both teams were officially eliminated from medal competition.

But both teams were also able to walk away safely.

"If we lose to India, I cannot go back home," said Muhammad Shahbaz, a Pakistani considered one of the world's greatest players. "And I'm sure it is the same for them."

In front of a capacity crowd of 15,000 flag-waving fans, nearly all from the two countries, the teams combined for only 10 shots on goal, eight by Pakistan.

It appeared that one of the Indian shots had resulted in a goal, however, when Baljeet Singh stuck a deflection into the net with less than four minutes remaining.

But officials ruled that the ball sailed into the high part of the net, which counts as nothing.

"You know how a balloon feels when it is pricked?" India Coach Cedric D'Souza said of the questionable call. "It was heartbreaking."

A loss by either team could have been worse.

In their rivalry--which has paralleled the feud of neighboring governments that separated and gained independence in 1947--games have ended with players and referees being physically beaten.

If the two teams weren't actually playing for a tie Friday, then this game was evidence of the drastic fall by both countries in a sport they used to dominate.

India won its first 31 games of Olympic competition beginning in 1928. And from that debut until 1984, either India or Pakistan won gold medals in 10 of 12 Olympics.

"The hearts of a billion people are hoping for a gold medal for us," said D'Souza, referring to his country's 947 million population.

But neither team has won a gold since 1984, as the introduction of artificial turf has allowed more sophisticated countries to dominate. Only about 30 fields in India have artificial turf.

Gavin Ferreira, an Indian forward, also said that European referees are showing racial bias.

"They see our color, they treat us different, it's frustrating," he said.

D'Souza agreed, saying, "In some matches today, you see that happening."

Regardless, there wasn't much to see of any color Friday except in the stands, where fans with green (Pakistan) and tricolored (India) flags mirrored the feelings of the players.

"We're disappointed we didn't win," said Shamim Ahmed, a Pakistani who runs an Atlanta gas station with her husband. "But we're happy that India also didn't win."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

STRAINED RELATIONS

INDIA vs. PAKISTAN: Part of the same country during the days of the British Empire, largely Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan went their separate ways on gaining independence in 1947.

Friction between the two was evident from the start, however, and erupted into warfare in 1965 over the disputed province of Kashmir.

Further exacerbating matters was India's support of East Pakistan in its civil war with West Pakistan in 1971. East Pakistan eventually prevailed and gained its own independence as Bangladesh.

The India-Pakistan sporting rivalry reaches its peak on the cricket field but extends to field hockey as well.

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