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The annus horribilis of Pakistan hockey


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Several members of the team that won the hockey gold at the 2010 Asian Games in China, have been discarded by the PHF for various reasons. It was the Asian Games win that brought Pakistan its Olympic qualification. – File photo by AFP
Several members of the team that won the hockey gold at the 2010 Asian Games in China, have been discarded by the PHF for various reasons. It was the Asian Games win that brought Pakistan its Olympic qualification. – File photo by AFP

At the recently-concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, Pakistan’s hockey team finished last, after losing five of their six matches. How they won the first match against Argentina, is the real question, not the five losses.

It seems as if it is not about winning anymore. It’s all about losing gracefully and coming up with excuses. Whether or not they are ready to participate in the upcoming London Olympics, the Pakistan hockey team and its management have surely accumulated a nice list of excuses for face-saving, should the nation question them or the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) when they fail at the Games , which are less than two months away now.  The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup seems like a horrible trailer of things to come.

The players are confused and unsure about their roles, thanks to the constant experimentation by the selectors. While other Olympic participants have kick-started their preparations and are looking to peak at London, Pakistan is still struggling with putting together a respectable team, which is not likely to happen until the few miserable ‘rebels,’ who dared to make a quick buck by opting to play in the unsanctioned World Series of Hockey (WSH) in India are allowed back into the squad. Here, too, the PHF can always make them look like villains who preferred money over playing for Pakistan.

Another possible excuse could be the absence of a blue turf in Pakistan.  The installation of the Olympic Park-style turf has been an on-going controversy in itself. The team manager was quick to lay blame on the surface after the team’s first loss in Malaysia. One wonders how other teams coped with the “bouncy and slippery” turf, which had “made things difficult” for his team.

While the manager has, at times, been brave enough to face the media, the coach has rarely had anything to say about the dismal performances. By sidelining Michel van den Heuvel and bringing in former captain Olympian Akhtar Rasool seemed to be an indication of things to come. While the man certainly means well and has Pakistan hockey’s best interests at heart, but there remains an unshakable image of him stumbling off the field after an exhibition match. Almost three-and-a-half years ago, when the Pakistan junior hockey team’s clash against their Indian counterparts was put off by the Indian government, the PHF hastily arranged for an exhibition match between the juniors and the former Olympians at the Hockey Club of Pakistan (HCP).

All of the game’s greats except Akhtar Rasool donned the hurriedly-stitched kits to take on junior team. Akhtar just couldn’t fit into a pair of shorts and shirt before he came in for a couple of minutes to pass the ball to his teammates before getting breathless to no longer be able to continue. Using his hockey stick as a walking stick, he left the field as quickly as he had entered it. So if this is the fitness level of the chief coach, one can imagine how he will be able to motivate and push the boys to lift their fitness standards.

Hence, the team that reached the final of the tournament in 2011 was seen picking up the wooden spoon in Ipoh this time around as New Zealand lifted the cup with Argentina as the runners up and India finishing third. Pakistan, after beating Argentina 4-2 in the initial game, just crashed. They were beaten by New Zealand (3-1), South Korea (4-0), Malaysia (3-2), India (2-1) and Great Britain (2-1). Sadly it all happened under the star player Sohail Abbas’s captaincy.

Meanwhile, the fate of the eight players – Shakeel Abbasi, Rehan Butt, Waseem Ahmed, Tariq Aziz, Imran Warsi, Adnan Maqsood, Mudassar Ali Khan and Zeeshan Ashraf – who featured in the controversial WSH hung in the balance. After being served with show-cause notices to appear before a PHF-formed disciplinary committee, former captains Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt were hoping for a quick decision in their favour, which would allow them to play in Malaysia. The committee, however, took its own sweet time as the PHF watched the tournament to see if the team could do without these senior players.

The committee announced the verdict on May 29, after Pakistan lost to New Zealand (May 27) and South Korea (May 28) as by that time, it was evident that the team cannot do without the senior players, especially forwards Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt.

When it is obvious that the national team needs these ‘rebels,’ the heavy fines imposed on them seem ridiculous. Shakeel Abbasi and Rehan Butt have been fined one million rupees each as they were part of the camp when they decided to play in the WSH. As for the others who participated in the league, they are to pay Rs2,50,000 each in order to be able to don the Pakistan colour at the Olympics. Failure to do so will see them banned for one year from both domestic and international events.

Former captain Zeeshan Ashraf, who had led Pakistan to victory at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in 2010, is also needed in the side whether the PHF likes it or not. Ashraf took a break after winning gold in China, when he opted out of the Azlan Shah Cup last year, while expressing his wish to feature in bigger events from then onwards. He was, however, discarded completely from all the following events as well despite the then Dutch coach thinking otherwise. Pakistan is only featuring in the Olympics on the basis of its Asian Games triumph and Ashraf, along with the other players shunned, led the team to victory. Meanwhile, the Dutch coach, who was also shown the door, is still under contract with the PHF until after the Olympics.

It is best that the PHF swallow their pride and reconsider the events of the last year or so, before taking the next step. Otherwise, instead of claiming to have brought back Pakistan hockey’s lost pride, they will only be able to offer a bunch of excuses, and maybe some more empty promises to the country’s sports fans.

The author is a member of staff at Dawn.

Comments (28) Closed

Champion Jun 05, 2012 07:38pm
3rd point is pakistan was early qualify team. But in matter of experience blue turf is least. Why so. This is not a excuse for team performance but if other team like india, korea also it is hard to play at blue turf. Take it as a reason not as a excuse. While europeans team has no problem bcoz they have lot of experience at such blue turf. What board was doing? They must arrange the turf early when team was qualified. Still time is there. Arrange more practise match with the current team only.
Champion Jun 05, 2012 07:29pm
2nd point how many of you really know abt coaching. The writer talk like a child. There are no need to be a coach with a fitness level as equal to players. There are many sports and coaches in world at late age but of world class. The coach, manager need to improve techique and motivate team. They also have to make plan for match. Not to play at field.
Champion Jun 05, 2012 07:20pm
I heard lot of view to include the rebel player for team of pak. I m totally disagree. Making money is not wrong, but making wrong money is wrong. They play against the permission and will of phf in banned wsh. So they know they could be banned. But select money over nation,phf and olympic chance by own will. How can undipline bunch of team won a medal. Have you heard?
Concerned Netizen Jun 05, 2012 07:19pm
What sort of a comment is that? How can Pakistan's hockey affect India's hockey and vice versa?
Ali Jun 05, 2012 07:06pm
i believe he was talking in a much broader sense, the loss of asian style of hockey in the fast paced world hockey at the moment...
Amer Jun 05, 2012 06:46pm
Dear Asif Bajwa, keep It up man! you have brought the hockey in pakistan almost to its end
Ragu Jun 05, 2012 11:09am
Cricket gets the money in India and Pakistan We should create a flashy hockey league in India and Pakistan Include Bangladesh Afghanistan Nepal srilanka Bhutan etc
AHMET ABDULAZIZ Jun 06, 2012 06:30pm
very true the organisors must concentrate on the roots There is not other place but the school, where you can pin point the talented boys.
Jawwad Jun 05, 2012 01:59pm
Fine? British use to fine us. What PHF is doing is called extortion.
AHMET ABDULAZIZ Jun 06, 2012 06:38pm
I always wanted to know the relationship of the present team members with the big shots in Pakistan. I can understand the presence of sons and other relatives of the past players, because they do work hard to groom their own children. Like Sameeullah and Kaleemullah are the nephews of famous Mutiullah, and Akhtar Rasool is the son of famous olympian Dr. Ghulam Rasool, and of Tanweer Dar who was the brother of the famous Muneer Dar and Tauqeer Dar who was his son. Abdul Rasheed Junior the famous centre forward of his time was the younger brother of Colonel Hameedi. There are quite some examples of the like, and i have seen that these players never let their famous fathers of uncles names . Recently i heard that the chief selector Haneef Khan has not selected his own son in the team, who has been quoted as a deserving young talented hockey player. I personally do not know the merits or demerits of the case, but ignoring a young talented boy just because of being the son of the chief selector , is a good exhibition of sensibility of Haneef Khan, but it may not be as good for Pakistan Hockey. In all cases merit must be the only criteria.
alio Jun 06, 2012 01:49am
by losing 5 of 6 games :)
SherPunjab SSherGill Jun 06, 2012 12:15am
It is not a question who lost and how lost. For last 40 years the west countries are changing rules which suits to those players who are strong and physically fit than south Asians. Before that hockey was a game of stick work and dribling. But now like other western games, it has also become a game of force and hit. The rules of off side, back stick, wrong side tackling are no more. India and Pakistan were champions when hockey was a game of team work and short passes. Now big hits, flicks and scoops. Europeans change the rules as it suits them better. Asian nations never speak or object. I wish old style of Pirthipal, Ajitpal, Balbir, Sami Ulha, Hassan Sardar and other our heros should return and Indo Pak should once again dominate field of hockey.
Guest Jun 05, 2012 10:01pm
PHF did the right thing by putting in the Dutch coach, but the saddest part is they did not let him work according to his own terms, due to conflict of interest, Same story like any other sport in pakistan, it's a power game of politics . There are two groups of former olympians one with PHF and one against PHF. I am 100% percent sure even if the ones that are against PHF are given an opportunity, would do anything different. The approach is simple and they know it already why they don't implement it is a million dollar question. Sami Ullah, Ishalahuddin, Shahnaz Sheikh et al all have been tried and tested. Some of them did well, but nobody had the long-term vision for the pakistan's hockey even if they had they were not allowed to contribute fully. I personally believe that the team tha twon the asian gold has the potential to be on the victory stand in Olympic. Even the curretn team without the seniors had the potential to do well, the way they floundered in the tournament remains a mystery.
I.Butt Jun 05, 2012 08:30pm
Every day I read news despradly willing to find out anything which could provide me some sort of relief in regard of my Motherland Pakistan's on going afairs...for instance in politics, developments, economy, defence strategy and so on, now even in the sports ( The flash of hope ) but unfortunately each and every day I have to be depressed with all these negative out comes of our negligences in all important matters.......May Allah Bless Pakistan... heal us to regain our lost national dignity and unity again...Aameen !
Wasir Jun 05, 2012 04:41pm
Shame. There is not one thing going good in Pakistan under the current illegal rulers.
ahmed j Jun 05, 2012 08:18am
At present we cant win. We have to think of future now. There is a need to regenerate interest in hockey again. The problem lies with unavailability of artificial hockey pitches and physical standards. In Pakistan very few grounds are available and the ones having artificial pitch is only available to the selected players. Many new natural grounds specifically made for hockey could be made available to public, like school/college grounds after education hours. Similarly, civil and government departments hold such grounds. A little fee can be charged for utilisation of these facilities and this can also help generate extra income. Apart from classical hockey, indoor game with 6 players each should be introduced. The game can take momentum when summers are harsh and at dark hours.
PirBaba Jun 05, 2012 02:32pm
How is it India's loss? Pls explain.
anantha Jun 05, 2012 12:14pm
When players make money because of their talent what the hell is the problem with the Hockey association of Pakistan. They have every right to earn their leaving, more so the fans get to see the best of the Hockey. This is absolute short sightness of all the association to declare WSH illegal. One must have looked at the Fans thronging the ground. The pride the players had to play for their team is something to be seen to believe. Come on PHF wake up.
Jawaid Jun 05, 2012 11:30am
How is it possible that the most successful hockey team in the world(4 times world champions) could finish last?
Mirza Sajid Ali Jah Jun 05, 2012 03:48pm
As usual, Most of the players in this team are sons or nephews of big shots in Pakistan. What can you expect? "Jaisy niyat waisy muraad".
Aniket Jun 05, 2012 08:27am
Politically, we might be rival nations, but are really part of the same group when it comes to areas like sport - esp hockey, and music. Pakistan's loss in Hockey is in a way India's loss, too. Wish things improve.
Mohsin Jun 05, 2012 05:19am
"Using his hockey stick as a walking stick, he left the field as quickly as he had entered it." - well said :)
Omar Jun 05, 2012 05:24am
Excellent article, Shazia. It seems we are doomed to mediocracy across all fronts because those who don't care, run things and those who do care, run nothing!!!
nadir Jun 05, 2012 05:29pm
Good article, I hope that by now our interested public realizes the capability of our former "legens"; see the steep fall after our "gora coach" left, on one of the internet forums somebody was criticizing Pakistan's performance in Champions trophy, then I had stated that in fact Pakistan team is improving; and I persist that then Pakistan team was performing and in fact was much closer to the top four teams, now we are even away from the last four who would particpate in Olympics. I hope, against hope that these people will realize and may even bring back our foreign coach for the last segment of preparation, let Zeeshan come back, give him four weeks to condition, and let Abbasi come for sure and may be even Waseem Ahmed if he does not involve in politics too much and give their best, ,the chance of making semis are almost impossible but between 5 th to 8th would be respectable otherwise, we are looking of another wooden spoon after World cup, Our players are extremely skilful, but they need guidance, which is lacking, so I hope media can take these people to task and let them make some needed changes right away, time is running out
C for Cassim Jun 05, 2012 06:03am
Omar you are right about who handles our affairs, but this is way below mediocre levels .... mediocrity would have defintely been better than this... this is pathetic! and we belong to a country that were the kings of hockey!! What a shame!
Ali Jun 05, 2012 06:09am
Simple steps.. really simple steps like starting again the secondary and higher secondary school tournaments, engaging education boards in contests could bring the fresh blood needed badly for Pakistan hockey. The dismal performance of Pakistan in Sports is parallel to the Govt's performance in governance.
Eli Jun 05, 2012 07:29am
Just ponder how one institution after another is destroyed in Pakistan; not sure whether by design or negligence...........
nadir Jun 07, 2012 07:50pm
the dutch coach is still willing to help Pakistani team, perhaps they should let the team work under him in the last leg of this important assignment