A few weeks ago, Shahbaz Ahmed Senior, Secretary of the Pakistani Hockey Federation (PHF), resigned from his post, citing the government’s apathy to the national game.
In his letter, Shahbaz argued that since the government and the Ministry of Coordination had no time for hockey between the provinces, he had no choice but to stop.
The legendary hockey star pointed out that India’s annual budget for this sport is over Rs 1 billion, while the annual hockey prize in Pakistan is RUS 3.5 million. While cricket attracts billions, our national game survives only a penny.
Hockeystadien, which once experienced the roar of the crowds and the magic of the Pakistani players, are now silent. The playing lawns are dirty and unkempt.
The player facilities are almost non-existent. Some argue that it is best to turn the clubs into marriage houses so that some money can be raised for the game. What have we reduced ourselves to?
There was a time I remember when hockey was in bloom. Our national heroes were ice hockey players and their game was nothing short of magic. Who can forget the gold medals won at the Olympic Games? Every generation of teenagers, apart from the current generation, seems to have their favorites with players and games.
My favorite was the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where Pakistan won gold after defeating Germany (then West Germany). Manzoor Junior’s Green shirts defeated West Germany 2-1 in the final. The best scorer was Hasan Sardar, who I think is one of the best players the game has ever produced, given his style in his game showed.
Then there was the 1985 Asia Cup in Dhaka, where Kaleemullah stole the show. It was a hard-fought game in which the Indian team gave us a hard time. But still persistence and a cool head on the shoulders have won the day for Pakistan.
But these are all memories now. Since 1984, Pakistan has not won any Olympic gold. The last World Cup she won took place in Sydney in 1994 – about twenty-five years ago. This year, Pakistan won its last Champions Trophy.
In the last quarter century, Pakistani hockey experienced an unprecedented decline. There was a surprise in 2018 when the Pakistani team won the Asian Hockey Champions Trophy in Muscat, Oman. This was however a unique piece. For this we must thank the sheer gentleness and determination of the players and not the planning or work of the Hockey Federation.
Gone are the days when Pakistan was promised a semi-final or final of a tournament. In some prestigious events where Pakistan was once regarded as a hot favorite, the green jerseys could not even qualify due to the bad rankings. To name just a few, our national team has qualified neither for the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands nor for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Not being an expert on the game or an insider on the hockey association’s affairs, he is reluctant to point out areas that need addressing, or steps to get things done. One thing is certain though: the game must be adequately funded and given appropriate priority.
First, the Pakistan Hockey Federation needs to get their house in order. There has always been a debate over who should lead the Federation, and this must be decided by the government. But we have to see that things are going in the right direction. The funds must be secured by both the government and other sponsors to refurbish stadiums and training facilities and to pay the aspiring players a fair amount for their maintenance and expenses.
The whole system has to be changed – players, training, coaches,
Selectors, facilities, stadiums, guides and a proper and functioning
Organizational setup First and foremost, we must be patient
to achieve the desired results. If 2019 is the year this process begins, we can
expect results of at least five years of consistent follow-up of this policy. Until then, hockey in Pakistan will remain a pleasant, yet distant memory for most.