I remember the time Pakistan was at the pinnacle of four different sports. It was a brief sliver in its tumultuous history, but it filled the people of this country with pride, and actually gave us something to enjoy when we turned on the TV.

This was long before the cacophony of shrill media outlets rudely awakened Pakistan from its slumber.

In those days, the poor among the awaam wondered why TV sets had more than one channel (PTV), and the rich among the awaam wondered why TV sets had more than four channels (PTV, Atari, VCR, and Doordarshan on a calm night).

At least one of these channels could be trusted to broadcast the therapeutic and calm-inducing PTV. The year was 1995. The 9pm khabarnama — probably the state-run network’s biggest draw — anchored the entire nation.

Hassan Sardar dribbling past a Russian player during the 1986 World Cup in England.
Hassan Sardar dribbling past a Russian player during the 1986 World Cup in England.

I remember watching the khabarnama to get the latest updates on sports. The lead-in to the sports report always featured a four-way split screen — the winning moments from Pakistan’s four triumphs broadcast in each.

Exultant Pakistani sportsmen celebrating their cricket, hockey, squash and snooker victories were shown on PTV, and they were viewed daily by millions of people across the land.

See: 2015: Another forgettable year for Pakistan hockey

It was a purple patch — the likes of which can perhaps never be met again. Needless to say, it instilled great pride amongst people to hold four world titles in a diverse set of sports. For all of us, being Pakistani meant being champions on a global scale.

A missed opportunity

For the powers that be, it would have been the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the unprecedented rise in athletic success by strengthening the grassroots infrastructure for each one of these sports.

Front page of DAWN announcing Pakistan’s victory in Rome (1960).
Front page of DAWN announcing Pakistan’s victory in Rome (1960).

We should have built professionally-run institutions to harness the talent oozing in the streets and trained young unknown athletes to become heroes.

True to form, we did not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

We let the moment slip, focusing on individual personalities and hero worship, rather than establishing sustainable institutions capable of empowering teams and delivering future champions.


The results are for all to see today. We all stand, loiter and bet in a decrepit sports system still stubbornly waiting for the messiah who will never come.


While the decline in Pakistan’s cricket fortunes has been awful and dizzying, public interest in cricket still hasn’t eroded enough to banish the game into irrelevance.

Hockey, on the other hand, has been a different story.

Pakistan’s national game

Wikipedia will tell you that hockey is still Pakistan’s national sport. If you saw the pathetic performance of Pakistan’s hockey outfit — a four-time World Cup champion failing to qualify for the most recent World Cup — you could be excused for breaking into a fit of chuckles.

1978 World Cup winning Pakistan squad.
1978 World Cup winning Pakistan squad.

For those who wish to see the men in green once more setting AstroTurf on fire across the globe, introspection would probably be more appropriate.

Pakistan captain Islahuddin receiving the World Cup from Lt.-Gen Jorge Rafael Videla, President of Argentina, after Pakistan’s 3-2 victory over Holland in the final of Buenos Aires on April 2, 1978. — Dawn Archives
Pakistan captain Islahuddin receiving the World Cup from Lt.-Gen Jorge Rafael Videla, President of Argentina, after Pakistan’s 3-2 victory over Holland in the final of Buenos Aires on April 2, 1978. — Dawn Archives

Back in hockey’s heyday, Shahbaz and Wasim Feroze were household names. A coordinated dribble down the left flank by Wasim was a sight to behold. And I will never forget Shahbaz shooting across the field like lightning, scoring goals impossible for anyone else.

As a matter of fact, there was enough talent to necessitate a senior-junior distinction between the two Shahbaz. And I always enjoyed watching Pakistan’s decorated goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmed swat away fizzing penalty strokes with consummate ease.

Hockey was flourishing in schools, and kids played the game on the streets. Public interest had never been higher. All the seeds needed to breed enduring success were there, just waiting to be sown.

Take a look: Pakistan hockey: Rise and demise

Sadly, the effort to crystallise these seeds of success into actual success was missing. Perhaps this had to do with the dearth of financial resources, but I would blame a lack of vision and professionalism above all.

The way forward

Modern sport across the world has wholeheartedly embraced franchise-based competition, ditching dull and dreary domestic contests in favor of glitzy and lucrative leagues. This paradigm-shift has been very successful on many fronts.

By following the rules and rigours of real-world business, sport forces itself to be accountable. In order to justify its value, a sports franchise cannot just survive — it must thrive and grow and endure from its success.

Modern sport are embracing franchise-based leagues across the world. — AFP
Modern sport are embracing franchise-based leagues across the world. — AFP

By adopting this model, we might be able to resurrect hockey in Pakistan. The successful opening season of PSL proves that franchise-based professional leagues are not inconsistent with Pakistan.

If we wish to model our franchise system on a professional hockey league that already exists, we don’t have to look that far either. For example, the Hockey India League (HIL) has been successfully operating for the last four years, and it’s been bringing in significant cash in the process.

If India can do it, why can’t Pakistan?

If a professional franchise-based Pakistani league can take root and thrive, then a champions league modelled on European football starts looking like more than a pipe-dream. If we can be smart, disciplined and passionate about our national sport, then resurrecting hockey in Pakistan will become more than just a nostalgic fantasy.

To add a Pakistani flair to our league, we can perhaps even consider the radical idea of crowdfunding one or more of the franchise teams. A bold move like this can serve to generate heightened interest in the competition.

See: Comment: Humiliation and disqualification — Pakistan hockey’s darkest hour

If Pakistanis are literally invested in the league with their own hard-earned money, it would generate a level of interest which only actual ownership can bring.

The first step is always the hardest. But if the logistical, administrative and marketing efforts, which made the PSL and the HIL roaring success stories, could be replicated in the Pakistani hockey circuit, then there is no reason why our hockey fortunes cannot be reversed.

In a piece like this that recounts Pakistan hockey’s glory days and names famed goalie Mansoor, I would be remiss if I failed to mention reports circulating the web regarding Mansoor’s ill-health.

Of everything that needs be done to resurrect Pakistan hockey, making sure former greats are not left to fend for themselves would be a good start.

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