Philip Barker

The decision to strip Belarus of host status for this May’s Men's World Ice Hockey Championship comes almost 50 years to the day after the first Hockey World Cup on grass was postponed because of fears that the competition would take place in "an atmosphere of violence".

It was to have taken place in Lahore, but postponement came little more than a fortnight before it was due to begin. It was eventually held in October 1971 and staged 8,400 kilometres away in Barcelona.

The World Cup idea had come from India and Pakistan, then the two dominant nations in international hockey. Between them, they had won every Olympic tournament since 1928.

An article proposing such a competition had appeared in an Indian hockey magazine. 

In April 1969, the council of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) came together in Paris. Officials were concerned that the International Olympic Committee had debated how to cut down the size of the Games and team sports were targeted.

"I fear that hockey’s representation will be reduced for the 1976 Olympics" said FIH President Rene Frank.

At the Paris meeting, Colonel Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara identified that there is no major hockey event between the Olympics as in other sports. He asked the FIH to consider holding a World Cup in 1971, the year before the Munich Games.

Dara had won Olympic hockey gold with "All India" in 1936, skippered Pakistan’s first Olympic team in 1948 and coached the first gold medal-winning team from his country in 1960.

A brochure for the abortive tournament Sikhs in ©Hockey/Dil Bahra
A brochure for the abortive tournament Sikhs in ©Hockey/Dil Bahra

Pakistan had recently hosted a tournament in Lahore where the hosts had paid the expenses of visiting teams. Dara offered the same deal for a World Cup.

He was supported by Air Chief Marshal Nur Khan, President of the Pakistan Hockey Federation and managing director of Pakistan International Airlines.

India’s S.M. Sait announced that ut would also be happy to host the inaugural event. "There was a lot of support among council members for the proposal," said the FIH magazine.

An eight-man commission was headed by Wolfgang Klee, a member of the Austrian squad at the 1948 London Games and later an Olympic tournament referee.

This group had representatives of each continent and was to report back on "the feasibility of holding a World Cup and with their recommendations on the form it should take."

Patrick Rowley, the distinguished hockey journalist who edited the FIH magazine, observed: "Hockey developing world wide had to come out of its shell. It would no longer be just a guest at the Olympics, somebody else’s party."

The following April, after what FIH general secretary Etienne Glichitch called "a remarkably generous offer by the Pakistan Hockey Federation", Lahore was confirmed for a 10-team tournament. The date was set for February 1971.

The four top finishers in the inaugural European Cup would be joined by the top three from the 1970 Asian Games. Even host nation and 1968 Olympic champions Pakistan were obliged to qualify.

They beat India in the final to do so, but only after extra time, prompting many to suggest their star was waning.

There have been 14 me;'s Hockey World Cups and Belgium are the reigning champions ©Getty Images
There have been 14 me;'s Hockey World Cups and Belgium are the reigning champions ©Getty Images

Kenya and Argentina were selected on recent results to represent their respective continents, while Australia and New Zealand contested the one spot for Oceania.

In a progress report for World Hockey, Farooq Mazhar wrote that "preparations are afoot to stage the cup on a truly grand scale."

Daras revealed that the tournament would cost PKR1 million (£4,500/$6,200/€5,100). The National stadium was renovated and two turf pitches were re-laid. "It is expected that the ground will be hard but smooth like a billiard table."

Organisers also commissioned a magnificent trophy depicting "a hockey stick and ball floating above an elaborately adorned globe".

It stood 65 centimetres high, weighed 11.56 kilograms and was made from gold, silver, ivory and teak. It was made by Bashir Moojid, a soldier in the corps of electrical and mechanical engineers.

Cultural events and an international fair were also planned at tournament time.

But in 1970, a terrible tropical storm claimed the lives of almost half a million in what is now known as Bangladesh. Then it was still East Pakistan, under the jurisdiction of the Pakistani Government. Said Government was criticised for its slow response to the disaster and an election in the region returned a party which favoured secession. The territory did eventually become Bangladesh after a bitter conflict.

Antagonism with India was never far below the surface. The Indians declared their intention to participate but as the year ended, some in Pakistan demanded that they be excluded from the tournament and threatened to damage the tournament venue if not.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a future Prime Minister and President, told supporters of his People’s Party that Pakistanis would not allow Indians "on our motherland unless Delhi shows a realistic desire to resolve all outstanding questions."

Pakistan have won the World Cup a record four times ©Getty Images
Pakistan have won the World Cup a record four times ©Getty Images

On New Years eve 1970, some 200 members of his party demonstrated outside the stadium in Lahore.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar was another vocal politician. He had played Test cricket for India before partition and was Pakistan’s first test captain in 1952.

"If they want to stage the cup without India that’s fine. It will save us tearing up the pitch," he told supporters.

By this time, Indian hockey official Jose Goncalves had asked the FIH to move the tournament.

In mid-January, General Azhar Khan, president of the Pakistan Hockey Federation, insisted tournament preparations were going ahead "with full force".

The FIH now cabled Lahore asking that the safety of the Indian team be guaranteed. The final straw came when activists demanded Kenya be banned from entering the country on the pretext of problems between the two at a previous meeting.

FIH general secretary Glichitch announced the postponement. 

"For the first time in the history of hockey, political activities have interfered with our sport. It was clear the first World Cup ran the risk of being held in an atmosphere of violence and could well be used for ends which had nothing to do with sport."

The Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo described the cancellation as "an abnormal event, contrary to the wishes of the Pakistan federation."

In late March, the FIH met in Brussels to choose replacement hosts. There were bids from India, Egypt, Germany and Spain.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation's General Khan announced it would boycott if the tournament was held in India. 

A poster for the first-ever Hockey World Cup ©Hockey/Dil Bahra
A poster for the first-ever Hockey World Cup ©Hockey/Dil Bahra

Shortly before the vote the Indians and Egyptians withdrew, so the final vote was between Barcelona and West Berlin.

Barcelona won by 26 votes to three.

"I hope and believe that all clubs and players in Spain will share the satisfaction of this which will help so much to promote and extend Spanish hockey," said Royal Spanish Hockey Federation President Domingo Vernis.

La Vanguardia described Spain’s decision to host as "a quixotic gesture brought about by those who honour sport in our country."

Juan Angel Calzado, a 1960 Olympic bronze medallist, was put in charge. The tournament was reported to have cost ESP10 million (£54,000/$73,000/€60,000).

It was held at the Royal Polo club in the city and at Terrasa, a venue used for Olympic hockey in 1992. On the day before it began, Barcelona Mayor José María de Porcioles welcomed the teams at a reception.

The very first World Cup match began at 10 in the morning of October 15. West Germany beat Argentina 5-1.

Then came the official opening. The Red Cross band led the parading teams in the autumn sunshine at a simple ceremony.

The match schedule was intense, with some teams required to play four days in a row.

Pakistan’s opener was a repeat of the 1968 Olympic final. They beat Australia 5-2 thanks to a hat trick from Tanvir Dar. "It gave them an immediate psychological advantage over the other teams", said World Hockey.

The host nation began with a 2-0 victory over Japan but their finest performance came to beat Pakistan 3-2 in their penultimate group match. “A golden page for our hockey", hailed Mundo Deportivo.

Pakistan reacted angrily to some of the decisions by the umpires and were fined CHF200 (£165/$225/€185) after they lodged an unsuccessful appeal.

A first day cover commemorating Pakistan's victory ©Hockey/Dil Bahra
A first day cover commemorating Pakistan's victory ©Hockey/Dil Bahra

The Olympic champions were relieved when other results went their way and they were able to take their place in the last four against previously unbeaten India.

East African champions Kenya defeated West Germany in a playoff to reach the knockout stage. It was a remarkable achievement after losing their opening two matches.

"The Kenyan victory was deserved if unexpected against a team which had arrived as favourites," said the Spanish press. Kenya met Spain in the semi-final but Jorge Fabregas scored the Spanish winner in the last moments of extra time.

In the other semi, Pakistan came from behind to beat India 2-1, but at a price. Leading scorer Tanvir was injured and thus missed the final.

"Pakistan will start favourites but there is room for hope," suggested Spanish newspapers.

The match was indeed close, decided by one goal scored by Akhtar. At the end Pakistanis "fell to their knees and kissed the ground." Khalid Mahmood lifted the trophy which Pakistan had given to the FIH months before.

“Spain fought to the end but without good fortune", said Mundo Deportivo.

"Hockey had reached the big time", wrote Rowley in his official account of the final, but wondered "How many members of the Pakistan team cursed the politicians who had prevented them achieving their great triumph on home soil?"

Given the unrest at home, Pakistan’s victory was a considerable achievement. When Pakistan’s cricket team toured England a few months earlier, they were greeted by demonstrators accusing their Government of genocide in East Pakistan. Ultimately, 1971 ended in war with India and by the end of the year Bangladesh had become independent after a terrible conflict which had cost many thousands of lives.