THE departure of our hockey team to London for the upcoming Olympics last week did not create much hype in the media or among sporting circles for obvious reasons. Hockey, despite being our national sport, has plummeted to a level where neither the critics nor the fans want to pin any false hopes on a team which sharply contrasts with the superstars of the glory days of the past. Although captain Sohail Abbas and coach Akhtar Rasool have expressed confidence about the team reaching the podium at the mega event, the team’s poor faring in a number of major tournaments including this year’s Azlan Shah Cup belies their claims. In fact, the greenshirts’ rare victory in last year’s Asian Games, which also earned them a berth at the Olympics, was their first major title in nearly 20 years. The performance of the national team at the Olympics is also in doubt as it has had very little opportunity to practise on the blue turf that will be the standard surface at the London Games.
In a bid to strengthen the squad, the Pakistan Hockey Federation had to eat humble pie and recall senior pros Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi, Mohammad Imran and Waseem Ahmed for the Games after the quartet was penalised for joining a rebel hockey league in India. Whether the move pays off remains to be seen because the 10-day camp at home and a handful of warm-ups is far from the ideal preparation required for the challenging 12-team hockey competition that begins in London on July 30. To put it in a nutshell, the team’s skill and talent will be on trial at the Olympics, especially against nations such as Holland, Germany, Australia and Spain who have so ruthlessly dominated the game since the advent of astro-turf some three decades ago.