The destruction of Pakistan Hockey began in 1986 when we surrendered our Asian Games title to South Korea and finished a pathetic second from the bottom in the World Cup played in England that year.
But, phoenix-like, Pakistan hockey rose from this debacle and again proved itself a powerhouse with glorious victories in two prestigious hockey events in 1994. First Pakistan recaptured the Champions Trophy title after a gap of 24 years and later the team went on to win the hockey World Cup. Victory in the 1994 hockey finals over Netherlands was a sweet revenge for the Green Shirts as it was the same opponent which deprived Pakistan of the World Cup title on home soil four years earlier.
After 1994 there have been hardly any big victories for Pakistan though we did bag a few medals at the Asian level but, considering the falling standard of Asian hockey, reading too much in those victories is unwise.
Pakistan’s failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup is the last nail in the coffin for Pakistan hockey and to rise back from this debacle seems like an impossible task. Pakistan’s international ranking will slide further due to non participation in the World Cup.
Is it possible to save the dying national game?
The non-seriousness of PHF can be gauged from the fact that the federation failed to acquire funds from the government for sending the team to feature in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which is regarded as an important international event.
Recently, some changes have been made in the PHF set-up but they are more like a storm in a teacup.
They won’t really change much for Pakistan hockey. Shrinking the pool of players, poor playing facilities, low earnings, expensive playing gear, frequent rule changes at the international level and infighting of officials are some of the causes behind hockey’s decline.
The newly appointed hockey PHF management including Shahnaz Sheikh and Islahuddin Siddiqui carry out countrywide open trials to find fresh talent, which can be termed a good idea. Still it is a very small step in the right direction. The selection of only 37 players from the countrywide trials is a clear indication of the lack of interest for the national game among youngsters.
If the PHF really wants to do some good they should introduce a massive scheme for the revival of hockey. There should be hockey grounds with Astroturf at schools even and in every city. The UK, Netherlands, Germany and Australia have the current top teams in hockey and each country has hundreds of Astroturf grounds whereas we in Pakistan have only eight such grounds. Playing on artificial grass requires technique which the youngsters in Pakistan need to learn. But they only get a chance to play on Astroturf during national-level tournaments.
Schools were the product line of Pakistan hockey but now they are unable to produce players as most of the students are unwilling to try their hand at hockey because they feel that making a career in hockey is not worthwhile. Cricket, snooker and a few other sports have become more lucrative for youngsters. One reason that these games have become more popular is that one can play them with minimum playing gear. Cricket can easily be played in streets and grounds with only two bats and one ball and with snooker parlors flourishing around the country one can play the game easily in a cost-effective way. This is not the case with hockey as each player requires his own hockey stick, which is quite expensive anyway.|
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 1st, 2014