Red card, Ranchi. It took mere minutes for hockey fans to turn fearsome from fabulous on Wednesday morning.
The capital’s sports-crazy image was dented as fans who did not get tickets for the Hockey India League (HIL) semi-final and final matches at Morabadi’s astroturf stadium pelted stones, leaving at least 10 people with bruises and prompting a police lathi-charge.
Trouble started when over 5,000 people crowded around the two stadium counters, but the 1,500 available tickets were sold out in less than 30 minutes from when the sale begun at 10am. Of the lot, only around 1,000 tickets were available for the first HIL grand finale to be held on February 10, a star-studded mega event starting 8pm.
Infuriated on being told by counter personnel that tickets had been sold out, around four or five vandals first tried to break barricades and manhandle mediapersons, including photographers, present on the spot.
Soon, a section of the crowd started to pelt stones at ticket counters.
As crowd rage swelled, 60 Rapid Action Police (RAP) personnel from Kutchery, 1km away, were rushed to help the 12 hopelessly outnumbered policemen originally posted near the counters.
Though it took the personnel 35-40 minutes to stop the stone pelting and disperse the mob, the task was efficiently done.
The trouble-mongers ran away. No one was held and none of the injured were reported serious.
But the damage had been done on a deeper level. Authorities raving over “Ranchi’s amazing crowd support and enthusiasm for hockey” were suddenly left worrying over security concerns during the big four matches to go.
Suresh Singh, a Jharkhand Hockey Association official looking after the ties at the Ranchi venue, said the event was “unfortunate”.
“We appreciate the love people have shown for hockey. But fans should understand the number of tickets was limited. Why won’t we sell tickets if they are available?” he pointed out.
Elaborating on the modalities of ticket sale, he said the maths was simple.
“We can’t forget that the Morabadi stadium is a small 5,000-seater. Of the seats, 1,000 (lower-tier gallery) are already reserved via passes for VVIPs, VIPs, sponsors and franchisee quota seats. Another 1,000 are blocked by franchisees in the form of tickets. Now, 3,000 seats remain, for which tickets are sold. Around 700-800 are usually bought online and finally the rest are sold at counters,” he said.
He added that they had already proposed to the state sports department to increase the seats. But that can only be done for the next year’s edition of the HIL.
“There is a three-year contract with Ranchi Rhinos to hold the games in the capital here. The crowd response has been unprecedented and increasing the seats is now an imperative. We can’t have a rerun of violence for tickets as it will give the city a bad name. We definitely don’t want to miss out on cream events in future,” he added.
Fans, however, were in no mood to listen to this logic.
The Telegraph spoke to some ardent hockey buffs who condemned the Wednesday violence but bared the underlying reason behind the fury.
“This is my second consecutive visit for tickets but in vain. I have come from Khilari, 50km from the city, on my scooty for tickets. I am really frustrated,” said Priyanka Anand, an insurance agent.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), the sale of tickets began late and stopped abruptly. Today, counters closed minutes after they opened. Organisers should have ideally announced the status of tickets, the numbers up for grabs. Then, there would have been no shock or disappointment. Tempers wouldn’t have risen,” said Sunil Minz, a student.
He had a point.
Did you have to come home without an HIL ticket?