RIP Pakistan hockey?
Hockey is Pakistan’s national game and its players have won many laurels for the nation in the past. Previously, these players were household names and were considered darlings of the nation, until everything went down under. Comparing those golden days of hockey with its dismal state today often brings tears to the eyes of many hockey followers.
The 2014 Hockey World Cup is less than a month away and, sadly, Pakistan has failed to even qualify for this global event. The reason of this depressing situation could possibly be attributed to the poor planning and management of the previous team that ran the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).
However, the downfall of Pakistan hockey had begun back in the day. The most prominent defeats were in 1986, when we conveniently surrendered our Asian Games title to South Korea and finished at a lousy second last place in the World Cup played in England.
After that, there were a few good years in between for Pakistan. We rose from the ashes and proved ourselves as hockey giants with glorious victories in two prestigious hockey events during 1994. First, Pakistan recaptured its Champions Trophy title, after a gap of 24 years; second, the team went on to win the hockey World Cup, that same year. The victory in that final, over the Netherlands, was bitter-sweet revenge for team green because they were the same opponents who had deprived Pakistan of the World Cup title four years earlier, on home ground.
But the victories of 1994 couldn’t keep Pakistan from falling to its impending doom. As it turned out, those wins were the last ones for Pakistan in hockey’s international arena. For the last two decades, we have consistently failed to win any global title. Although Pakistan did get some heads-up at the Asian Games during this period but, that too, was short-lived.
Pakistan’s failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup was perhaps the last nail in the coffin for Pakistan hockey and a return from this debacle seems to be an impossible task for the current team. Due to their non-participation in the World Cup, Pakistan’s international ranking slid down even further.
The blame for this largely lies on the ineptness of the PHF.
The flighty attitude of the PHF is evidenced with the sad fact it was unable to send our team to participate in the renowned Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which is regarded as an important international event in the hockey world. This was all because the federation was unable to acquire the necessary funding in time for the tournament.
Recently, some changes have been made in the setup of the PHF, as stalwarts like Shahnaz Shaikh, Islahuddin Siddique and a few others have been introduced to take the hockey setup further; in my view these changes won’t make any difference.
If we try to jot down everything that is wrong with hockey today, we can trickle down to a few major factors. These include a drastically shrinking pool of players, poor playing facilities, low earnings, frequent rule changes at international level and internal feuds of our officials. Changing the PHF management won’t make much of a difference until we solve the other issues that blemish this sport.
Steps are being taken to help pull Pakistan hockey back on its feet. With the newly appointed hockey management carrying out country wide open trials to find fresh talent, one can hope that the sport might become popular amongst the masses once again. Searching for new talents seems like a good step to take but is still a very small one, especially since only 37 players have been selected from these countrywide trials. This is a clear indication of our youth’s shrinking interest in the national game.
If the PHF really wants to revive hockey, they need to start introducing the game in schools and colleges, provide Astroturf fields and build more hockey stadiums around the country. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia are currently the top teams in hockey and each country has hundreds of metres worth of Astroturf fields; whereas we, in Pakistan, have only eight Astroturf-fitted hockey grounds in the entire country. It is disheartening to see that this is how we treat our national game.
Playing on Astroturf fields requires a lot of training and unless the youth is given the field to practise on, they will always lag behind. Schools were the product line of Pakistan hockey at one time but now they are unable to produce players because the thrill of recognition is lost in this game and students are unwilling to try their hand at hockey because they feel that making a career in the sport is not worthwhile. They believe that it will not pay enough to support them for the rest of their lives, and unfortunately, they are right.
Cricket, snooker and other sports have become more lucrative for youngsters. One reason that these games have gained consistent popularity is because they can be played without any equipment or gear, whereas for hockey, the equipment is necessary; this can become financially taxing. In my view, hockey will decline further if new and aspiring hockey players are not given financial incentives. This will encourage the younger lot to choose hockey as a career, and will help the existing players to continue with the game without looking elsewhere to fulfil their financial needs.
Hockey was once an artistic game. I have been an ardent follower of hockey for three decades but the pathetic condition of our national game today is very difficult to bear. If things don’t improve, sooner or later, I doubt our national game will have any followers left in Pakistan.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.