Our heartbreaking hockey history: Do we have a future to look forward to?

Published: September 6, 2013

Our wakeup call should have been the last World Cup, played in India in 2010, where the Pakistan team finished last. PHOTO: FILE

The heartbreaking Friday of last week has passed with the most shocking news of the Pakistan Hockey history. The upcoming World Cup will be played without Pakistan – the country that conceived it in 1971 – for the first time in history.

A lot has been said and will be said on the defeat at the hands of South Korea in the Asia Cup, which shut the door on Pakistan, but was that the only chance Pakistan had to qualify for the mega event? Absolutely not, as the team had failed to impress in the qualifiers too.

The national hockey team has fallen into an abyss but this state is not new for the hockey followers of this country.

After winning the World Cup in 1982, the Pakistan team followed with a disastrous show in the following mega event in 1986 and finished 11th out of 12 teams, however they went on to win the silver medal in the following 1990 event and then claimed gold in the 1994 World Cup. This shows the resilience in the players which is a major factor missing today.

The incumbent management of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) kept on changing its goals ever since it took over in 2008. Many foreign coaches were brought in however only to be sacked later, the selection committee was dismantled, coaching staff was altered and a lot of such moves were made evidencing the instability in the federation altogether.

The state of affairs in our administrative side of hockey reflects the fact that appropriate measures were avoided in the recent past and our wakeup call should have been the last World Cup, played in India in 2010, where the Pakistan team finished last.

At the junior level, the PHF claims to have a large pool of players yet we have not been able to produce a good penalty-corner specialist, quality forwards or goal-keepers.

Since modern hockey is played without classical rules [off-side etc], hence, a player needs to run up and down which demands top class fitness, there is a rolling substitution available and yet fitness is where Pakistan is lacking.

The glorious era of Pakistan hockey had three great aspects about it which have gone missing in recent times; hockey – the national game – was a regular sport at the school level, club hockey was nurtured and the country’s top players were taken care of very well with permanent jobs and such.

I remember the words of a former hockey captain, Zeeshan Ashraf, who said, “I will not encourage my son to choose hockey as a profession”, a heartbreaking statement for a hockey well-wisher.

The PHF has built academies and they will surely look towards school and club hockey as well, but their foremost priority should be the well-being of their national players.

Technique and fitness of a player can be tuned by top quality trainers; however, for mental peace – providing them jobs – the federation needs to play its part. In this regard, the 30-year age restriction for a departmental team is also a barrier which should be abolished.

The sad but true reality is that Pakistan will now be featuring in the Hockey World Cup scheduled in 2018 – if they qualify – but the national hockey administrators are now left with no other choice but to look ahead.

And all we can do is hope that this time around, they will learn from their past mistakes and make things right in the future.

Muhammad Asif Khan

Muhammad Asif Khan

Head of Sports section at News One TV and a TV show host of 'Sports One.' He has also worked with Business Plus and Indus TV. He tweets @twitter.com/mak_asif

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