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2018 Asian Champions Trophy
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Hockey strikes chord, 3000-seater Oman stadium sol (10/28/2018)
--Shashank Gupta
Hockey strikes chord, 3000-seater Oman stadium sold-out

As the Hero Asian Champions Trophy 2018, Muscat, enters its last phase, Hashir drives towards the Hockey-stadium but his phone never stops to ring. There are non-stop queries about availability of tickets. Of course, there are booths set up at popular locations but then there are second, third or even fourth level connections of Hashir, who are interested in witnessing the match but live at distant locations and want tickets to be reserved for them. Pic below: UTSC stalwarts undefined

‘If India is playing against Pakistan in the finals, I want to purchase 2 tickets in the VIP-stands,’ says the caller.

‘That will be 10 Omani-Rials for each ticket,’ replies Javis who is attending the call as Hashir drives.

‘But it was 5 (Rials) earlier…?’

‘Those were Pool-Matches. These are semis and the finals.’

Hashir and Javis who belong to a local club called UTSC (United Thalasserry Sports Club) never mind the manual work involved in ticket-distribution. Along with their other voluntary members they are offering unconditional support, at all possible levels, to the Oman Hockey Federation for successfully holding this tournament. After all, their heart beats for Hockey.

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Hockey has little visibility amongst the common public. If reports are to be believed, Star Sports asked a local-channel for 50000 OMR (roughly, 1 Crore Indian Rupees), for giving out the broadcasting-rights for all the matches. The local channel denied it and thus, only select-matches are broadcasted by Star Sports for the locals.

There is no Hotstar here either.

So, as the tournament approaches its closure, the demands for the ticket is on the rise. This is the first time, an Asia-level Hockey tournament is happening in Oman. As you go around the stadium, people look at you and smile, for no plausible reason.

If you dig deeper, people (of diverse nationalities) tell you that the Omanese-lot are welcoming people and treat everyone with great respect.

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If they know that you have come from India, they start speaking to you in Hindi. Ask them how they learnt Hindi, they will proudly tell you, ‘In our neighborhood, there are both Indians and Pakistanis. We know a lot about Indian culture.’

A local-youngster, Imaad, a digital-marketing entrepreneur, is managing social-media campaigning for Oman Hockey Association. He narrates an interesting example:

“The other day, a bunch of children were being loud and noisy. Seated not far from them were a few VIPs. A volunteer, an Omanese gently walked up to the parent and requested them to take care of the children. As expected, it didn’t work. So, a few minutes later, he got the children flags of Oman. The children were a happy lot fluttering the flags around. Both parties were happy!”

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A bunch of Koreans come to the stadium every time Korea plays a match. You talk to them and they are so enthused that someone walked up to them to talk that when you walk away, they hand over a bottle of water to you, as a good-will gesture.

Occasionally you can find a lone-Spaniard watching the game with keen observation. He remarks, ‘Oh! I love Hockey. I left Spain a few years back, but I love Hockey. This is the first time a high-level tournament is happening here, so I come to watch India’s matches. I am hoping to see some good contest between the three: India, Pakistan and Malaysia.”

Then there are former Omanese players who dedicatedly watch each match. Malaysian-fans’ presence is also visible in the stadium.

Last but not the least, there are noisy Indian and Pakistani fans who bring life to the stadium whenever they show up at the venue, Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Muscat. undefined

If you go to the public-stands, you can find Motazim, an Omanese with this mother hailing from ‘Bombay’ (as he says), proudly volunteering to be ‘ticket-checker’. On the day of India v Pakistan league match, Motazim had to took a decision, i.e. 1 stand for Pakistan, and rest three for the Indians. ‘I told them (Indians and Pakistani supporters): Jump, dance, sing, beat drums, shout but don’t come anywhere near the bottom-most stair of the stand. The whole stand will collapse if people jump here. They are free to enjoy at every other place,’ Motazim points out with joy, expression and enthusiasm. He then points out to a bunch of laborers who attempt a freebie entry to the stands everyday, “Every day I tell these people, the ticket is hardly 1 or 2 Rials. You purchase and enter. Without the ticket, I can’t let you enter!”

What one is trying for free today, may not be even available at a price tomorrow. The reason being, apparently, a Finals between India v Pakistan match is what everyone is waiting for. In anticipation of that tickets are running out fast for the Finals.

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Big-names of Hockey have already started to landed up in Oman. Pakistan Hockey Federation President, Secretary (Shahbaz Ahmed Sr.), some former star players from Pakistan, former Coach to Pakistan team Akhtar Rasool Chaudhary, Ambassador of Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, they all have started to come to cheer for their respective teams.

In anticipation of a full-attendance Finals -- probably where many gatecrashers may return back empty-handed from the stadium as well -- the security is beefed-up around the entry points of the stadium and local-volunteers are seen to be receiving terse instructions from their team-leaders on the restrictions of movement of people in the marked-zones.

It’s the first-time Oman is witnessing so much public around the Hockey-pitch. Amongst everyone, the luck-lot are the ball-boys, brought in by Hashir, Javis and the UTSC-members. After each match, they take autographs and pictures with Indian and Pakistani players. This has become a routine ritual for them. Each day they do the same with renewed enthusiasm. As Javis rightly remarks, ‘If we are in India there will be no access to Indian players. The children are a privileged lot.’

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At a press conference, the President of Oman Hockey Federation, ruled out bidding for next version of Asian Champions Trophy but issued a caveat with certainty that Oman is committed to further its presence in Asian Hockey, when it comes to hosting tournaments in the future.

As a result of efforts of UTSC and OHF, it is revealed that the 3000-capacity stadium is sold-out for the Finals:

India v Pakistan game today.

So, it’s only a matter of time, Hockey-pitch will be frequented by more and more fans of Hockey and as they say here in Arabic: Inshallah (if God wills), Hashir’s phone will be busier than ever!

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