Pakistan’s hockey skills have been on a constant decline since 1994, when the Green Shirts last won the World Cup. For almost a decade after that, Pakistan, though not a serious contender for any global title, at least remained in the top six teams in any competition as well as world rankings. Featuring regularly in the Champions Trophy it climbed the two lower steps of the podium quite often until 2003. But since 2006, Pakistan has failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy, a competition initiated by it. Their last three appearances (2007, 2011 and 2012) were courtesy of wild cards.
Hockey has never been in a worse state than now. The unthinkable happened recently when Pakistan failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
A natural consequence of Pakistan’s ever declining hockey fortunes has been the erosion of the game’s nursery. It has been a vicious cycle — the national team’s poor results have led to a decreased interest in the sport with subsequently less and less hockey at the grassroots and the drying of the talent pool, leading to further deterioration of the performance of the national teams. The erosion of hockey at the grassroots is regarded by many as the main challenge confronting Pakistan hockey.
In late 2006, the 1984 Olympic gold medallist and scion of Pakistan’s most glorious hockey family, Tauqeer Dar, on the suggestion of his father the late Munir Dar (Olympic gold medallist, 1960), initiated a great venture in the name of his late uncle Tanvir Dar (Olympic gold medallist, 1968, and World Cup winner, 1971) to nurture talent at the grassroots level.
The academy with the motto, ‘Come, learn and play for Pakistan’, started with just seven boys initially. Today it has more than 80.
Anyone interested in playing hockey is welcome. The academy provides the boys with a hockey stick and playing shoes, after which the learning starts and a boy may even go on to play for Pakistan, depending upon his skill and dedication of course. Though the academy is in Lahore, talented boys desirous of making a career in hockey from outside the city are spotted by the academy scouts, and helped to get admissions in schools in Lahore. These include players not only from far-flung areas of the Punjab such as D.G. Khan, Pir Mahal, Gojra, Mailsi, etc., but also boys from other provinces — there are lads from Bannu and Swabi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh’s Hyderabad. All expenses of education, boarding and lodging are borne by the academy. The academy doesn’t even charge a rupee from any player.
The training is imparted by a team of coaches presently led by the 1994 World Cup winner Danish Kaleem. Competition is provided at home, as the boys play for their school teams. The Model High School, Model Town team, made up entirely of Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy boys, won the Jaffer Memorial Tournament, the oldest and the most prestigious school event of the Punjab, three times in the last four years. Nobel Hockey Club Lahore, consisting entirely of academy boys figures in the local and out-station club tournaments and has won a number of laurels. Nobel Club is the reigning champion of Lahore district club championships. The academy’s boys are picked up by the departmental, city and provincial sides for national senior and age-group championships. All of the four semi-finalists in the last two national junior championships had boys from the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy.
The academy teams have gone on tours to Europe (thrice) and India. It is also worth mentioning here that everything is being done without any financial help from any government department or the Pakistan Hockey Federation. The academy carries out all its activities through private sponsorships.
As the academy’s president Tauqeer Dar says, “Pakistanis are generous donors — the cause has to be genuine. The number of our patrons is always increasing.”
Private sponsors including multi-nationals are a great help. The academy and its boys’ achievements mean increase in patronage. Pakistani expatriates have also joined in. The hosts of the academy in Holland have been greatly impressed by the boys’ talent and the academy’s services to the cause of Pakistan hockey. In December 2012, the Flying Dutch Veterans, a team including many past Dutch Olympians visited Pakistan on a special invitation from the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy. They sent a container to Pakistan carrying around 1,200 hockey shoes, 600 high quality hockey sticks and 24 goalkeeper kits. Not only did the academy distribute this equipment among its own colts but many other hockey academies/clubs, too, all over Pakistan.
In 2008, the academy’s under-15 side participated in the All India Maharaja Ranjit Singh U-15 tournament in Amritsar and returned victorious. In 2010, the academy’s U-16 side toured Holland, Belgium and Germany. They won 16 and drew one match during the tour and also won the international Most Outstanding Player (MOP) Tournament in Holland, participated by teams from four countries. In 2011, the academy’s U-15 side toured Holland and Germany, winning all of its 22 matches. They also retained the international MOP tournament besides winning a junior tournament in Germany. Then last year, the academy team toured three major European hockey nations — Holland, Germany and Belgium. This time they encountered much tougher opponents as compared to the previous two years. The boys played the 1st Division sides of the Dutch league, each of which had international players on its roll. In Germany, they faced, among others, the national junior champions and in Belgium the academy came across the national champions Dragons Hockey Club who had also won the bronze in the last European Hockey League (EHL). Of the 14 matches in three countries, the Tanvir Dar Academy lost just one game.
Just after two years of its inception, the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy boys had started gaining selection in Pakistan’s national junior teams. The graph has gone up throughout. Two players, both from the academy, debuted for Pakistan’s national senior side in 2012. And the Pakistan side for the tour of Australia and Japan includes four names from the academy.
All of the Pakistan age-group teams since 2009 have included Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy boys. The victorious Pakistan team in the U-18 Asia Cup in 2009 had four Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy lads — Bilal Qadir, Aleem Bilal, Arsalan Qadir and Faisal Qadir. In 2010, in the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games, Pakistan’s gold medal-winning team included M. Saleem Nazim, Imran Butt and Khalid Bhatti from the academy. In the 2010 Youth Olympics, Arsalan Qadir was the tournament’s top scorer. The Pakistan junior team that toured Egypt in 2011 included three boys — Khalid Bhatti, Bilal Qadir and Aleem Bilal. Then Aleem Bilal, Khalid Bhatti, Arsalan Qadir and Bilal Qadir also featured in the 2011 Sultan Johor junior tournament in Malaysia. The 2012 Junior Asia Cup had Khalid Bhatti, Faisal Qadir and Aleem Bilal. In the 2012 Pakistan national team’s pre-Olympic tour of Europe, Khalid Bhatti made the academy proud by becoming the first pure product of the academy to win the national senior selection. The 2012 Sultan Johor junior tournament in Malaysia had five academy boys — Aleem Bilal, Khalid Bhatti, Faisal Qadir, Arsalan Qadir and Mohammad Saleem. In the 2012 Asian Champions Trophy in Qatar, Salman Hussain became the second Tanvir Dar Academy player to don the senior national Pakistan shirt. Salman made an appearance in all of the matches including the final. Pakistan won the tournament. This year two academy boys — Adeel and Sikander Mustafa — played in the Asian U-16 Tournament in Malaysia where Pakistan lifted the title. And the Pakistan national team for the recent tour of Australia and Japan includes Khalid Bhatti, Salman Hussain, and brothers Arsalan Qadir and Faisal Qadir from the academy.
It may be easy lamenting the declining fortunes of Pakistan hockey and blaming the system, government, etc., for all this, but it’s harder to actually do something on your own to improve the situation. Tauqeer Dar is only one of the numerous stalwarts of Pakistan hockey who has made the effort. Indeed, some others have also been serving hockey at the grassroots level, running clubs, etc., but the scale at which the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy is working, and more importantly delivering, is unmatched. It is hoped that at least a few other former internationals step up and work on similar lines. Meanwhile, the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy serves as a role model not only in hockey but for sports in Pakistan as well.
I come from Bannu, which, having produced legends like Hameedi (captain of Pakistan’s gold medal winning team of 1960) and Rasheed Junior, Pakistan’s top-scoring forward when they won the Olympics in 1968 and World Cup in 1971, has a great tradition of hockey.
So I took to hockey from early childhood. Unfortunately, these days the hockey scene in Bannu is not very encouraging. The bad law and order situation has also contributed to this as has the politics creeping into hockey there. So I was looking for some other place to fulfill my hockey ambitions.
I came to know about the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy through Facebook and contacted them immediately after which I was asked to come for trials. Satisfied with my ability, the academy offered me the complete package — boarding, lodging and education plus of course top-class coaching — all absolutely free of cost. My parents, too, respected my decision to join the academy as far as I didn’t neglect my education. I have been enjoying my time at the academy, and I feel my hockey skills have improved considerably.
——Danish Shah as narrated to I.C.
“ I owe a lot to the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy,” says talented forward Salman Hussain, who debuted for the Pakistan national hockey team last December during their victorious Asian Champions Trophy campaign and also made a couple of other appearances. The lanky right-out has been recalled for the national team’s tours of Australia and Japan in Oct/Nov, 2013.
Hussain feels indebted to the academy, “For a player’s growth, there is no substitute for the competition. Apart from providing excellent coaching, the academy caters for that as well. In the summer of 2012, I toured Europe with the academy. We played mostly against the first teams of the top tier clubs of the Dutch, German and Belgian domestic leagues, and almost all these teams had internationals playing for them. It was a wonderful experience. My performance was lauded by everyone. All this did a world of good for my confidence. Within a few months, I had earned my first selection for the national team.”
Akhtar Khanzada is a former hockey player, who has represented Sindh as well as coached the provincial side. Hockey has always been his first love. He still coaches and runs the Mehran Hockey Club in Tandojam. The passion for hockey runs in his family — Akhtar’s younger brother, Adnan Hamid, has in fact played for Pakistan juniors and toured Malaysia in 2003 and Europe in 2004 with the national age group sides. The next generation is carrying on with the family tradition. Akhtar’s son Khizer Akhtar is now making his mark in the sport by training with the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy for the last almost one year.
Akhtar Khanzada, the joint secretary of the Sindh Hockey Association and the Pakistan Hockey Association representative in Hyderabad, is often given assignments by the federation during various national-level tournaments. “I had heard about the Tanvir Dar Hockey Academy during a sojourn to Lahore where I had gone for one such assignment. I visited the academy and was really impressed with the atmosphere there, especially the quality of coaching being imparted. We don’t have such kind of facilities in Tandojam. A youngster gets everything here — practice on Astroturf, training by highly-qualified coaches and good competition. My son has been here for hardly three months and there is a discernable improvement in his game. The standard of education is also much better than that of interior Sindh, an additional bonus.”