Salman Akbar is a veteran goal-keeper who made his debut for Pakistan in 2001. Termed by Olympian Shahid Ali Khan as one of the most hard-working players in the game, Akbar has won the 2005 Rabo Trophy and the 2010 Asian Games gold medal with Pakistan. He was adjudged the ‘best keeper’ in both events. Here, he reviews Pakistan’s performance at the 2012 Champions Trophy where the Greenshirts clinched the bronze medal.
I have been playing league hockey in the Netherlands for the last five years. With two Olympic gold medals, three World Cup titles and a host of other championship wins, there is no doubt that the system here is top notch. The professionalism, as everyone knows, is not limited to hockey alone. Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert and now Robin van Persie are household names not only in Europe but also Pakistan.
Needless to say the whole business of sports is taken seriously here, so much so that it falls within the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports as it is called, the three seen as directly proportional to one another. For the Dutch, sports are a tool for social betterment and as such given its due importance right from the foundational level. It is something Pakistan would do well to adopt, keeping in mind the positive impact of sports on society.
It is quite evident from what has happened in the past that this issue, however, does not figure in our national agenda. The country goes to the historic polls on May 11, and what is clear from the numerous jalsas is that sports – and even health – does not feature very high in their list of priorities. True, education, economy and security warrant a little bit extra but if sports can’t be part of politics, politics should also not be a part of sports.
Pakistan has a Sports Ministry, better known as the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB). After the devolution of the ministry in 2011, the administrative control of the PSB was transferred to Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination. Commenting on the development in a local newspaper, renowned sports administrator and analyst Zakir Hussain Syed said, “Devolution of sports to provinces has been nothing less than great farce.”
The ongoing fight between PSB and Pakistan Olympic Association is the biggest example of politics in play in sports. And it is shameful for Pakistan that International Olympic Commission (IOC) is contemplating banning the country from the Olympics for this reason.So as things stand there is no clear policy, no one is sure who is in charge, the national federations are running on political appointments by men without any clear goals and understanding of sports. It is part of the annual budget which is nothing more than a handout.
The impact of all of this eventually trickles down to the athlete (read below). Those who make it are more likely than not self-made. Sprint queen Naseem Hamid and snooker champion Muhammad Asif are great examples of individual determination and achievement with virtually no support. As it was with their cases, political parties have used moments of glory for photo ops and to gain mileage. They offer cash rewards to the athletes and absolve themselves of any further responsibilities. Why not make it part of their so-called ‘manifestoes? After all, Pakistan is famous throughout the world because of its sporting achievements and in times like these, perhaps the only positive ‘news’ from the country.
Pakistan has a very rich sports history. There was a time when we were world champions of cricket, hockey, snooker and squash. Currently, it is a struggle largely due to bad governance. Therefore, elimination of political influence from sports is as important as improving the health, education and various other sectors. Team selections and other internal matters should be monitored carefully and the system needs to be overhauled. The ongoing fight between PSB and Pakistan Olympic Association is the biggest example of politics in play in sports. And it is shameful for Pakistan that International Olympic Commission (IOC) is contemplating banning the country from the Olympics for this reason. Numerous sports heads in the country are related to politics in some way or the other. Professionals should be appointed instead, people who only think and work for the betterment of sports and not to save themselves for the next tenure.
The state of hockey
The national hockey federation in the Netherlands, Koninklijke Nederlandse Hockey Bond (KNHB), gets its funds from the National Olympic Committee (NOC). This committee focuses on sports which are realistic medal hopes at the Olympics. KNHB oversees all hockey matters and has put in place an excellent domestic structure in the shape of league hockey. The great thing about league hockey is that it is not only limited for the top players but boys and girls and as young as 12 too, train and come up from this league. The national hockey players play for their respective clubs in the league thus making the job of scouting and picking players for the national team simple. Even if there is no international event, the core group of national team players still trains together once a week.
Compare that to the system in Pakistan where there is no domestic hockey at all. All the national players train together only when a camp is set up before an international event, mostly a month before it. The National Champion Ship is held annually but last for only 2-3 weeks and it is not something that can be used effectively to select a national squad from.