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Straight talk: Better watch out

Pakistan finished last in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysai. – Photo by AP

The recent drubbing the national hockey team was subjected to at the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia is yet another occasion for all concerned to wake up and do something. They — including the Pakistan Hockey federation — can’t do much about the national game, for the gap between us and the rest is only going to widen with time, but they can certainly do something to preempt such a fate in their own respective context.

It is time to salvage whatever is left in our midst in the name of a system because the basic fault for the decline in hockey lies not with the players, but with the lack of system that pervades all other spheres of national activity.

Take education, health, economy, governance, anything; characteristics of the system remain very much the same: absence of institutions, absence of accountability, adhocism, nepotism, across-the-board frivolity, lack of understanding and, on top of it all, a serious lack of intent to understand, perform and deliver. The only difference in the realm of sports is that, unlike most other sectors, it has an easy scapegoat; the players take the flak while the administrators continue to make hey because for them the proverbial sun continues to shine, which is such a pity.

Come to think of it, among the segments in our society that have played a major part in making Pakistan a well-recognised country in the world, sport has always been among the top few. It has been so from the very beginning. It was hockey and squash in the early years that introduced the country across the world, and they were followed not much later by cricket and subsequently by bridge, snooker, boxing and even sailing in which Pakistani sportsmen excelled, winning regional and international laurels that earned recognition and goodwill for the country.

The thread running through all these success stories, however, was that of individual talent. From Hanif and Fazal to Wasim and Waqar, from Shahnaz and Islah to Hasan and Hanif, and from Hashim and Roshan to Jahangir and Jansher, none of them — and, of course, many, many more — was thrown up by the system; they all made it big on the basis of their natural skill, individual effort and even personal investment in terms of initial training and grooming. The latest to join the ranks is Aisamul Haq, who recently made it to the semi-finals of the French Open and has hit the purple patch on the international tennis circuit for quite some time. He is no exception on this count.

Pakistan Tennis Federation can surely take no credit at all for what Aisam has been able to achieve on the circuit.

There has never been any concrete effort to have a system that may harness the natural talent. Even the highest offices in the land poke their mighty nose in the affairs of the various federations and associations, all that is done for the sake of accommodating the blue-eyed.

Beyond that, there is little concern for anything else. The net result is that instead of producing giants, the federations are churning out pygmies and using them as scapegoats to continue enjoying the goodies themselves.

Had the decline been confined to one area, we could have called it bad performance. Had it been so bad in a few games, we could have called it a coincidence. But the massive decline is no coincidence. The malaise definitely runs much deeper. And it is the same malady that plagues our very existence as a nation. By the same token, the cure has to be the same: put in place long-term systems that shall be professional and accountable.

We have before us the example of how things slipped out of hand in hockey which once used to enjoy the same popularity as cricket. When people stopped bothering about what the PHF was doing, the game went from bad to worse. Cricket faces the same threat today.

Mismanagement has caused Pakistan hockey dearly; the biggest loss being in the shape of talent scarcity which is inevitable when the national team stops performing well at the international level. Youngsters have lost interest and the game is all but dead. It is a lesson that Pakistan Cricket needs to learn in a hurry.

Of late the national cricket team has not been on a bad patch. In fact, it is doing pretty well compared to how things have often stood in the past. The Pakistan Cricket Board would do well to avoid taking the path that the PHF and other bodies did. Every setback in hockey should work as a warning to the PCB because the latter is not always seen to be steering clear of the path that was once undertaken by the PHF.


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