How low can Pakistan fall?

Published April 13, 2015
Imagine the state of mind of the players amidst all of this. Why would you want to play hockey at all?
Imagine the state of mind of the players amidst all of this. Why would you want to play hockey at all?

When Pakistan finished below Canada at the 2010 hockey World Cup, many former greats cried out in anguish.

Fans wondered whether it could possibly get any worse for the ‘Kings of Hockey’ before the ‘great overhaul’ came. Finishing at the bottom in the 12-team hockey show-piece had to be the moment when it all changed, surely.

Pakistan, who won the World Cup in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994, had finished 11th at the 1986 tournament in London. 2010 was their worst-ever showing. The television screens sounded the death knell, ex-captains called press conferences, review committees were made and a couple of individuals lost their jobs.

Eight months later, Pakistan defeated Malaysia to win gold at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, but anyone who followed the game closely, knew nothing had really changed from the ignominy of Delhi 2010.

Pakistan qualified for the 2012 Olympics courtesy the Asian Games win, but they were still scraping the barrel in the months preceding the London event. And as expected, a combination of poor planning and tired legs meant that the Greenshirts ended their Olympics campaign at the 7th spot.

The last of the greats, Sohail Abbas, faded away after that event, the bridge between his side and the rest of the world stretched further.

Did anyone in the top administration care? The circus was out again; déjà vu.

Nothing changed.

Like a battered prize fighter, the national game stood up off the mat once again. But this time it met with the greatest blow and the inaction of the previous years meant Pakistan had to suffer the humiliation of August 30, 2013. It was more of a tragedy; Pakistan hockey's ‘darkest day’.

Former Olympians and fans mourned it as the worst blotch on the nation's sporting history as the former field hockey titans failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since the tournament's inception in 1971.

“I really feel disgusted that Pakistan which launched and pioneered the World Cup competition has today failed to make the event,” former captain Islahuddin said after that defeat to South Korea in the Asia Cup.

“The failure of the team has been brought due to the poor policies of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) which has been fooling people by making excuses and by setting false goals of ‘new competitions’ after every defeat.”

A couple months elapsed and Pakistan faced further shame, this time paying the price for a split in the Pakistan Olympic Association and being unable to send a team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This was the first such instance as well.

Fresh 'elections' a few months later, saw Olympian Akhtar Rasool and Rana Mujahid come into power unopposed as president and secretary respectively of the PHF for a term of four years.

It has been a practice of the ruling governments to install their own men in top positions during their terms, merit and acumen is hardly a criteria. Various prominent former Olympians like Islahuddin Siddiqui, Shahnaz Sheikh, Samiullah Khan along with others termed those elections bogus, the result of which is for everyone to see.

Fast forward to April 2015, and the PHF wraps up a training camp for the 2016 Rio Olympics Qualifiers because of a shortage of funds. Days later the Indian federation offers to bail out their Pakistan counterparts.

The government is unmoved.

When it finally responds, Federal Minister for Information Pervez Rasheed, alleges that the PHF had used the funds allotted to them on “other things”.

“The government has released around USD 12 million to the PHF as special funds in the last few years so it is not as if the government is not supporting hockey but the PHF needs to get its house in order and tell us where this money was spent because we have been told more than the players, it was spent on other things.”

Imagine the state of mind of the players amidst all of this. Why would you want to play hockey at all?

It seemed there was some development in the sorry affair, as the Sports Board Punjab finally stepped in to lend PHF a hand last week. But that move was followed by a declaration by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar that the government would not release funds for hockey without holding its audit.

Sorry, sorry reading.

But why is it that despite being the most successful team in the history of hockey, Pakistan is still surviving on hand outs? Where is the corporate structure which would allow it to generate its own revenue? What really is the role of the federation? And when will the government finally disconnect itself from sports boards and federations?

Australia is one of the most successful hockey teams in recent times. Although the Australian Sports Commission is Hockey Australia's principal partner, the federation Down Under works just like a corporation of which the players are the brand. In their 2014-2018 plan, a strategy to generate 50 per cent non-Government revenue is a major goal.

“Stronger business model by sustained profits through diversified revenue,” the objective reads. They currently have eight commercial sponsors of the team. Eight!

The Australian federation also aims to be a 'top three ranked national sporting organisation in Australia' by winning 12 medals from 14 'benchmark' events. Furthermore, their objective will be to have at least 250,000 registered hockey participant in the four-year period.

National sports federations in Pakistan, on the other hand, are the epitome of the malaise affecting government institutions. The rot within them is amplified because they are directly linked to the fortunes of the various national teams on the international stage. It makes for great fodder for the media, which beats the drums and plays emotional Bollywood tunes to images of dejected players.

There is no discourse, no solutions for that 'angle' just doesn't sell.

Where are the analysts offering governance models inspired by the likes of Australia or even the Netherlands?

One former Pakistani player recently said that the pool of quality players had shrunk to 30 over the past decade and it is hardly a surprise. Passion does not put food on the table.

Hockey needs Pakistan as much as the country needs the game. It is part of its identity.

In an interview with Times of India Australia's most decorated player Jamie Dwyer said:

“When India and Pakistan are good there is nothing better for the game. The game becomes so exciting because the amount of following in those countries is huge. I want hockey in those countries to do really well.”

What will it take to finally address the collapse of the giants? How long will we keep beating the astroturf for our demise? Even it has turned blue now.

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