New Delhi: How could a sportsperson do such a thing to the country’s sports? This is the overriding sentiment in Pakistan over former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scheduled 13 August rally in Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium for which the astroturf has been removed.
Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairperson, will be taking part in a ‘Haqiqi Azadi Jalsa’, which his party is calling a “historic address” where PTI’s future strategies will be unveiled, Dawn newspaper reported.
But people are not happy. For one, the removal of the blue astroturf, which was installed in the world’s biggest Hockey stadium inside the Nishtar Park Sports Complex in 2012, is reported to cause a loss of Rs 15 crore.
Pointing out that this was one of the few relatively well-maintained fields in Pakistan, Muzamil Asif, a sports journalist at Geo TV, criticised the decision to remove the astroturf.
Probably the only well-maintained hockey astro-turf in Lahore being scrapped for PTI jalsa. Strange! A sportsman himself, @ImranKhanPTI will lead a jalsa on the dreams of dozens of hockey players who are already helpless in the country#ImranKhanForPakistan #shahbazgill #PTI https://t.co/8e32365NrE
— muzamilasif (@muzamilasif4) August 10, 2022
For PTI, the main attraction is that “masses would come in droves”, according to Andleeb Abbas, the party’s information secretary.
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Rally to unveil PTI’s future plans
At a convention of the minority community in Islamabad, Imran Khan declared that he would hold this rally to celebrate Pakistan’s ‘real freedom’ on 13 August and show the nation how to achieve it.
“I will show the masses what true freedom actually entails on August 13,” Khan said in his address to a minority convention on Thursday, The News International reported.
Dr Yasmin Rashid, president of PTI’s Central Punjab unit claimed that they would “make history in the National Stadium by celebrating true freedom.”
Responding to the widespread criticism over the removal of the astro turf, Punjab sports minister Taimur Masood said that a new tender would be floated soon while the turf ripped off from the National Hockey Stadium will be installed at the Sargodha Hockey Stadium in Punjab.
The National Hockey Stadium would get a new astro turf costing Rs 15 million by the end of this year, Minute Mirror reported.
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Not the original location of rally
PTI had previously planned to hold their rally at the Parade Ground Islamabad but later changed the venue to Lahore, fearing chaos and chose the National Hockey Stadium to accommodate the attendees.
AstroTurf is being removed from Hockerton Stadium, Lahore to facilitate @ImranKhanPTI's jalsa.
The approximate cost to the national exchequer would be around 6-7 crores.
Worth it? pic.twitter.com/Pw2z6h9LUV
— Hamza Azhar Salam (@HamzaAzhrSalam) August 11, 2022
Following this, Ata Tarar, special assistant to PM Shehbaz Sharif moved the Lahore High Court seeking directions to stop the PTI from holding the rally because “the removal and installation of astroturf will cost millions of rupees”.
In 2009, a three-member Punjab Sports Department Committee had in its report declared astro turf dangerous for the players, stating that it fell short of international standards, Dawn reported.
Earlier, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry had said that the astro turf at National Hockey Stadium was not being removed but only replaced.
(Edited by Prashant)