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World Cup disqualification a new low for Pakistan hockey

Updated May 31, 2014

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File Photo

LAHORE: Just as the world’s top hockey teams converge at The Hague in Holland to contest the game’s showpiece event, the 13th edition of the World Cup which commences on Saturday, Pakistan hockey presents a gloomy picture after having failed to qualify for the mega event for the first time ever in the country’s 60-year history of the game.

The four-time winners of the title who introduced the event more than four decades ago, fell from grace after failing to attain a position among top three teams in last year’s Champions League which served as qualifier for the World Cup.

They also squandered other such opportunities which would have brighten up their chances of competing at the mega event. In the last World Cup held in New Dehli, Pakistan finished at the bottom with 12th position and hence lost all hopes to get a place in the World Cup. The green-shirts then failed to win the last Asia Cup which could have guaranteed them a place in the World Cup.

Interestingly, Pakistan who are the winners of the Asian Games and Asian Champions Trophy could not qualify for this World Cup whereas three other Asian countries like India, Malaysia and South Korea made the grade.

One feels that not just the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) but the entire hockey fraternity of Pakistan is responsible for the ignominy borne by the country today. Almost every prominent hockey Olympian has been involved in the hockey affairs during the last two decades but no one could succeed in bringing back the glory days for Pakistan which had dominated the game from 1960 till the World Cup in 1994.

The incumbent PHF president Akhtar Rasool was the head coach of the Pakistan team which had badly flopped in the Champions League qualifiers and the Asia Cup. He was appointed head coach in place of Dutch coach Michel van den Heuvel who was sacked by then PHF chief Qasim Zia in March 2012 despite the fact that the Dutchman had coached Pakistan to Asian Game victory after almost two decades.

It is extremely unfortunate that rather than learning any lessons from the past, both the government and the hockey stalwarts refuse to take the situation seriously and are doing nothing at all to put the game on path to recovery. In fact, the officials attached with the game today are only looking to safeguard their own interests and save their jobs and skin.

Despite the shambolic state of the game in Pakistan, the government remains totally oblivious of the situation and is not ready to take any concrete steps either for the accountability of the people responsible or for the betterment of the game.

Akhtar has now been elected as the PHF president despite his poor record as head coach and has recently been joined by another set of Olympians including former captain Islahuddin and Shahnaz Sheikh and a few others on key posts in the PHF.

While these very Olympians in the past had constantly held ex-PHF bosses Qasim Zia and secretary Asif Bajwa responsible for the hockey debacle until last year, they are now themselves toeing their line by harping on the same old tune that the youth is not being provided incentives to take up hockey and that no player among the ones attending the ongoing national training camp in Islamabad has a regular job.

In a recent interview, Shahnaz said some 13 to 15 departments had disbanded their hockey teams and the future of the sport and its players did not look too rosy, an argument which was repeatedly offered by Qasim’s regime earlier.

One feels that if these Olympians continue to play the same blame-game and focus only on their own well-being, Pakistan hockey is unlikely to experience any revival of any sort in the future.

The government is also not ready to take initiative to help out the players by providing them with incentives or allowing them necessary exposure which could help them get better with time. Instead of focusing on providing sports infrastructure and other incentives to the players, the governments during the last five years have been wasting their energy on a needless conflict with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over a trivial issue like the National Sports Policy.

That conflict with the IOC has now brought Pakistan on the brink of suspension from international sports community. If one carefully looks at the National Sports Policy, the government has 90 per cent responsibility to bring improvement in sports and just 10 per cent clauses relate to the policy.

But it has failed to realise the same despite repeated setbacks. This ridiculous approach of the government is earning lot of shame for the country and has almost completely ruined the sports including cricket, hockey, squash, snookerc etc which were once dominated by Pakistan around the world.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2014