Hockey: Chennai to host Asian Champions Trophy 2023, Pakistan invited

Pakistan's Mubashar Ali (L) and India's Lalit Upadhyay fight for the ball during the men's field hockey third place match between India and Pakistan at the Asian Championship Trophy tournament in Dhaka on December 22, 2021. Munir uz Zaman/AFP via Getty Images

Top-level international hockey will return to Chennai after 15 years this August when the city hosts the Asian Champions Trophy. The tournament, from August 3-12, will feature the continent's top six teams - including Pakistan.

Announcing this today, Bhola Nath Singh, Hockey India's secretary-general, said the teams have been asked to confirm their participation by April 25, and that permission has already been sought to allow Pakistan to compete in the event. South Korea, Malaysia, Japan and China are the other teams to take part in the tournament.

"This is not an invitational tournament, the top teams in Asia will play, so there will be no problems with permissions for Pakistan to play," Bhola Nath said.

This will be the seventh edition of the tournament and it will serve as a precursor to the Hangzhou Asian Games in September. That, in turn, is a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

The Pakistan Senior Men's Hockey Team last played on Indian soil during the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar, and the country also had representation during the Junior Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar in 2021. They weren't present at the Hockey World Cup in Odisha in January 2023, but that was because they had failed to qualify for the tournament. Tamil Nadu sports minister Udhayanidhi Stalin said that if Pakistan make the decision to travel to Chennai, adequate security arrangements would be made, in consultation with the Pakistani team and federation.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF)'s decision could potentially have far-reaching consequences across sports - particularly for the Cricket World Cup, which is scheduled to be held in India in October later this year.

Indications recently from the Pakistani side were that they wouldn't travel to India for the World Cup, and that they could play their matches in Bangladesh. This was after India had made it clear that they wouldn't travel to Pakistan for the Asia Cup, which is now likely to be held in one overseas venue apart from Pakistan. India and Pakistan haven't faced each other in a bilateral cricket series in more than a decade now, with the last series being held in January 2013. In 2019, a Davis Cup tie between India and Pakistan also had to be moved to Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan, with the political situation in both countries deemed to be unconducive to hosting the tie there.

The geopolitical situation remains volatile, but both Hockey India and the local organisers in Tamil Nadu are confident now that Pakistan will make the trip for Chennai's return to international hockey after a 15-year wait.