LAHORE: Former hockey star Olympian Manzoorul Hasan Senior has hit out at the Punjab government’s decision of removing the AstroTurf of the National Hockey Stadium for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) public rally and described it as a great loss of hockey.
It is said to be the biggest hockey stadium in Asia and has hosted several momentous tournaments such as World Cup.
Speaking to Dawn on Thursday after the news of removal of the AstroTurf went viral, the former hockey great said he was deeply disappointed over the Punjab government’s decision of ruining the stadium. He questioned Punjab Sports Minister Malik Taimoor Masood’s claim that the turf was being replaced and now it would be installed in Sargodha and that it had to be changed by the Buzdar government because it was already quite old.
“The turf in Sargodha is already there and boys play there without any complaint. In fact, the turf is not available in Faisalabad for the last one year as tenders have not been issued,” Manzoor said.
“It is wrong to say the 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 tournament without any complaint,” Manzoor said.
“Yes, the only problem it had was that it was not perfectly placed when it was laid around 10 years ago. But its surface was in a perfect condition,” he said.
He also said not a single turf was laid by the Punjab government in the last four years and now the decision to remove the one added insult to injury. He said a protest meeting would be organised in front of the National Hockey Stadium on Friday.
Manzoor said there was no need to remove the turf as the cost of a new one had increased manifold due to the surge in dollar value.
The turf was uprooted on the order of Punjab Sports Minister Malik Taimoor to facilitate the PTI to hold its public meeting on Saturday (tomorrow). The party shifted the event from Islamabad to Lahore a few days ago.
The stadium has a seating capacity of around 65,000 spectators and can also entertain 15,000 or so more people in the playing area. The National Stadium was inaugurated by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in mid-80s when he was a provincial minister.
The Punjab sports minister told media on Thursday that the decision to change the turf had already been taken by the previous government (led by Usman Buzdar), so it was not being replaced owing to the public rally. The minister said the tender for the new turf would be given in the next few days and the project would be completed in the next four to five months.
He said the turf was laid some 10 years ago at a cost of Rs40 million and now the latest cost would be known after issuing tenders. He said the old turf would be laid in another city of the province despite the fact it had completed its playing-age.
The minister also claimed that it was not a political rally but it was being held as part of Independence Day celebrations. He said cultural shows would also be part of the event.
It will be the first time that such a public meeting by a political party will be held at the National Hockey Stadium. In 1974, former Libyan president Moammar Gaddafi had addressed a public meeting at Lahore Stadium (which was renamed Gaddafi Stadium) when he was in Lahore to attend the Islamic summit.
On Oct 20, 2012, the turf was folded to host a ceremony of singing the national anthem by a large number of people to break the record of India. Around 70,000 Pakistanis gathered at the stadium to sing the national anthem.
The stadium had previously been used to hold music concerts which left it in poor condition. Officials of the Pakistan Hockey Federation which has its offices in the stadium are tight-lipped as the stadium is in full control of the Punjab Sports Board.
A former Olympian said he was in consultation with other stars of yesteryear and they were likely to hold a protest at Liberty Chowk on Friday.
Meanwhile, PM’s special assistant Atta Tarrar has sent a legal notice to the chief secretary Punjab, the commissioner Lahore and DG Sports Board on the matter of removing AstroTurf from Lahore’s stadium ahead of PTI’s power show, according to a report.
Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2022