Pakistan’s winning hockey team forgotten, losing cricket team adored?
There is no free lunch when it comes to coverage of sports in Pakistan. Pakistan’s hockey team has just won the second Asian Champions Trophy by beating Japan in the finals and with this victory, Pakistan has retained the title for the second time.
Interestingly, while our hockey squad was on stage in Japan reveling with their gold medals, Pakistan’s cricket team was getting hammered at the hands of the South Africans in the UAE.
Even more interesting was the stark contrast in the nation’s response to these two international sporting events. Even though Pakistan lost the ODI series, the audience was glued to their TV sets, constantly updating their Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses, while hockey was nowhere in sight.
No trumpets were blown for our hockey team; there was no red carpet welcome and no official congratulations came their way.
Victory that feels like defeat is what seems to have struck Pakistan’s national sport these days.
Achievements in hockey
When it comes to our achievements, cricket can barely scratch the surface when compared with hockey. It has literally been medals galore for hockey since inception.
- World cup: Four gold and two silver medals
- Olympics: Three gold, three silver and two bronze medals
- Asian games: Eight gold, two silver and three bronze medals
- Champions trophy: Three gold, six silver and seven bronze medals
In addition, we also hold the world record for the highest number of goals scored in international hockey with Sohail Abbas’s shining 348 goal tally.
Achievements in cricket
We are yet to produce a batsman who makes the highest number of runs in cricket, while Sachin Tendulkar is the record holder of 15,847 runs – the highest number of runs achieved.
Despite this gigantic gap between the laurels of cricket and hockey, cricket remains the talk of the town and it is cricket and not hockey that is blazed on our TV screens left, right and centre. Regardless of cricket’s poor performance and hockey’s high achievements, cricket hogs the limelight while hockey remains in the shadows today.
The question arises, why is hockey, the sport that has given so much to the nation, facing an almost complete blackout from our public, news and media? Why is cricket, given its poor performance, always in the limelight?
The answer to this question is fairly complex and involves two elements – the commercial nature of our media and the rapidly changing demographics of our society.
The media’s role in hockey’s death
As is the case internationally, our electronic and print media groups are not voluntary or philanthropic organisations working for the common good. Rather, they are commercial organisations led by profit. Media owners have invested a lot of capital in their business with an aim to see a return on their investments. Hence, what gets aired has to be commercially viable.
Of course, cricket is where the money is and hockey, frankly speaking, is not. Banks, mobile companies and all other major sponsors are into cricket. Therefore, it is logical, not to mention commercially sound, to dedicate space where the sponsors want it.
Unfortunately, hockey being an amateur sport does not have much of a marketing appeal for the sponsors to enable it to sustain media coverage. This is the case not only in Pakistan, but all over the world as well.
This lack of sponsorship appeal means hockey is given a back-seat, even if we are a winning team. Moreover, all the glamour and scandals in cricket make it even more appealing to media groups and lucrative sponsorship deals ensure air time irrespective of the result.
It seems that it is profits and not patriotism that makes a losing sport so popular, while putting the victorious national sport on the back bench.
A young hockey-less generation
Pakistan’s population has changed drastically over the years and two thirds of the population is yet to reach the age of 30. This audience cannot relate to the victorious era of hockey from the past. The vast majority of Pakistanis have not seen Islahudin Siddiqui, Samiullah Khan or Hassan Sardar dribble past defenders and score breathtaking goals.
If they have not seen or heard about our hockey players, they cannot really mean much to them, can they?
As the current generation grows up, they are bombarded through media with cricket and even European league football, which was completely unknown just two decades ago in this part of the world. It is common these days for kids to know the names of favourite players in Manchester United or Arsenal and even know the names of their team members. However, try asking a youngster today what the name of the captain of Pakistan’s hockey team is, and I can guarantee that he will look at you in bewilderment.
Unfortunately, hockey is neither in the memory of our youth nor is its artistry and excitement displayed on TV. There is simply no way that hockey – our national sport – can have a future with trends like this.
The seriousness of the situation calls for all who love the sport, the entire hockey fraternity and stakeholders in Pakistan to join their heads and look for a remedy. Merely funding the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) will not do, although it is the federation that has the responsibility as well as the resources, to develop the sport in the country.
However, if the federation has failed and so far it has, then it is time for the fans to take over, irrespective of how few they may be.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.