As we trudged up the road towards the entrance of Hockey Club of Pakistan (HCP) Stadium for the Pakistan-China match on Wednesday, my colleague Nadir asked me if I was sure there was a match being played that day. His question wasn’t too surprising, given the lack of noise from inside the stadium and the road around the stadium wore a deserted look.

After assuring him that we were at the right venue at the right time, I told him to curb his expectations of a crowd similar to that of a cricket match – it just wasn’t the same for hockey anymore even though an international team was playing in Pakistan after seven years.

At the entrance, the police frisked Nadir, Zeresh and me and checked our bags. There were finally signs that there was some activity going on inside as the commentary and the noise from the crowd became audible. However, the first sight that greeted me was the starkness of the empty stands, which provided the background to the on-field action. Things were slightly better on the other side, where a handful of fans – albeit full of enthusiasm – occupied the stands.

For anyone who has been to the National Stadium Karachi (NSK), even for a domestic match, the attendance at the HCPS would have come as a shock. Given that hockey is our national game, which has brought glorious wins for the country in the past decades, the empty stands with random sprinkling of security officials, was a sad spectacle. This, despite a free entrance and central location of the venue, shows how far our national game has fallen.

The crowd which was present there, however, was a lively one. There was, quite aptly, good support for both teams participating in this first match of the “Friendship Series.” The fans seemed hopeful of the future of international sports in Pakistan, and said that the visit of the Chinese team will encourage other international teams to visit Pakistan. Realising the importance of this series, people were grateful to the Chinese for visiting Pakistan when other foreign teams have shown reluctance in playing here.

The action itself was quite exciting, as Pakistan scored two quick goals to send a wave of excitement among the crowd. Children waved flags of China and Pakistan, clapping and shouting slogans of encouragement but even then the crowd did not match up to the normally frenzied atmosphere at a cricket match. While it may be unfair to compare the two games, hockey is a much faster paced game than cricket and the end-to-end action, the zipping moves and high-flying sticks should reflect on the noise in the stands.

Perhaps the last-minute arrangements from the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) and a general lack of interest in the game are to be blamed. The PHF, in particular, should have played a better role in promoting the match. For a foreign team to play a series in Pakistan after a long gap was a landmark event. However, there was little to no promotion for the series. Newspaper ads were missing, radio and internet promotions could not be found and the PHF failed to create hype among the masses.

The empty stands and the flat atmosphere were the only drawbacks of what was otherwise a great experience of watching a hockey match live for the first time. It was an exciting game, full of penalty corners and the two quick goals from Pakistan certainly livened up the atmosphere. But I couldn’t help drawing comparisons to cricket where the atmosphere more than makes up for the lack of pace on the pitch.

With the tour of the Chinese team, maybe security fears for other international teams have been allayed and Pakistan can hope to host more international teams in the near future. With a better atmosphere at stadiums, improved facilities and better promotion of the game, hockey stadiums in Pakistan have great potential of matching the madness of a cricket match, once again.

The writer is a Sports Producer at Dawn.com

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Comments (10)

Hasan Zaheer
December 22, 2011 5:42 pm
A very good article. I wish we learn how to keep our traditions alive. All hail the writer!
Shahzad
December 22, 2011 6:52 pm
Both "material" and "immaterial" incentives are absolutely necessary to promote any sports. By "material" incentives I mean economic incentives and "immaterial" incentives refers to media coverage, recognition and celebrity status. Unfortunately in Pakistan, Hockey (or any sport) does not ensure economic stability and that's why only those people pursue a career in sports who are either poor (can't afford education) or who consider it as a job substitute. That's the reason why we are facing a sever lack of talent in all sports and particularly hockey. I will hold media responsible for this situation as we have seen that our own national media (PTV) didn't broadcast a single hockey match last year (at a time when there are some signs of revival of Pakistan Hockey). We don't see a hockey star in a promotion advertisement. I am 100 % sure that most of us will not even recognize a national hockey team player if we meet him somewhere. If media provides half of the coverage to hockey or any other sports that it provides to cricket, I see no reason why we will expect the same enthusiasm and crowd that we expect in a cricket match. The only way to shift the focus of cricket crazy nation is by promoting hockey at grass root level, which will not only guarantee the emergence of fresh talent but will also give hockey the respect that it deserves.
huma
December 22, 2011 10:46 pm
agreed with shahzad. also i've been to matches in the lahore hockey stadium in the 90's and i can tell u tournaments like the champions trophy etc were all sold and the noise was deafening and crowd presence electrifying. needs to be brought back. def better advertisement of tournaments/matches is required.
Qurratulain
December 22, 2011 11:21 pm
Well written and so true. I live pretty close to the stadium, and I remember back in the day when it used to host big crowds I could see people sitting on the high walls of the stadium, like they were spilling out.
M. Asghar
December 23, 2011 1:15 am
Let us continue to play good hockey matches in country, the presence of big crowd sof fans will come along with the need to show these matches live on television like that of cricket.
Dribbler
December 23, 2011 1:08 pm
A new blue astro turf has been announced for HCP....so I think the last part of suggestion is working out...hopefully we will see much more competitive teams coming back and with it improvement in our game.
mano
December 23, 2011 7:35 pm
Whats your name dear sports producer from dawn,you look more lively than the game itself....its just a compliment though,no offence meant or implied :-)
R Malik
December 24, 2011 12:24 am
I am 67 years old and was a hockey player during my school days. I follow hockey more than I follow Cricket. It is very unfortunate that India and Pakistan do not play hockey more often. Do not blame fans not being excited about hockey. Who wants to come to watch China play Pakistan even if it is free. Let India and Pakistan play and you will see the fans coming to watch the great game of Hockey. HCP should approach India and not China to play Hockey games. Something has gone wrong here.
JZ
December 24, 2011 2:02 am
Our hockey team is going through a very tough time. Every match is a bellicose.They should fight with gravitas. To return our lost probity back.
GKrishnan
December 24, 2011 11:24 am
The trick to revive the sport would be to have an annual Pak-Ind fixture across the cities, after all, it is the national game for both the countries, and interest will automatically be generated. We also need to encourage more youngsters from poor backgrounds, like Yuvraj Walmiki, coming as he does from the Bombay slums, who scored the crucial penalty for India versus Pakistan in the recent Asian Champions Trophy final in China.
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