MUMBAI Indian hockey officials have released all nine Pakistani players signed up to play in the new franchise-based league after the heightened political tensions led to protests against the athletes in Mumbai on Sunday.
Following the latest outbreak of violence in disputed Kashmir, around 100 workers of the hardline right-wing Shiv Sena party protested at a stadium where the Mumbai Magicians team, who had four Pakistani players in their squad, were practising.
The players had to be whisked away and the team subsequently left Mumbai on Monday for New Delhi, where the inaugural match of the five-team Hockey India League (HIL) was held.
Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra said the players were released following a discussion with the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).
"All have approved this decision. The contract money for 2013 will be paid in full to the Pakistani players and HI stands committed in guaranteeing the same," Batra told reporters in New Delhi.
"We and PHF have mutually decided to release the players so that they do not feel the mental stress and their performance is not affected."
Four soldiers were killed last week in the worst outbreak of violence at the Line of Control, which divides disputed Kashmir, since the nuclear-armed neighbours agreed a ceasefire in 2003.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Ties were soured again in 2008 when gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in a three-day rampage with India blaming a Pakistani militant group for the massacre.
Shiv Sena, who dug up the Wankhede Stadium pitch in 1991 on the eve of a test match between the two countries, threatened to disrupt the hockey league if Pakistani players took the field.
"We will give the right to franchises which own Pakistani players so that they can ask for replacements. They can select from the reserve pool within their allocated budget," Batra added.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar)