IN times when Pakistan have increasingly been isolated in the world of sports and is compelled to play its home series in many sports disciplines away from home, the national women hockey team’s phenomenal rise at the regional level at Bangkok has augured well.

Pakistan reached the top four for the first time ever by making it to the semi-finals of the fourth Women’s Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) Cup before tasting a 1-4 loss at the hands of Chinese Taipei in the playoff for the 3rd-4th positions.

Information gathered by Dawn reveals that nine teams which featured in the contest were drawn in two pools. Pool A included Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Indonesia while the pool B comprised Singapore, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.

Pakistan opened their campaign on a positive note while playing one-all draw against Hong Kong.

The national women team then taught Cambodia a lesson while registering a thumping 11-0 victory after enjoying 6-0 lead at half time. Mayira Sabir stole the limelight by scoring five goals. Ishrat Abbas slammed the board twice while Afshan Noureen, Hina Perwaiz, Hina Kanwal and Kulsoom Shehzadi scored one goal apiece.

Pakistan shared points with Singapore by playing a one-all draw against them in their third and last pool match. Afshan Noureen scored for Pakistan.

With one win and two drawn games to their credit, Pakistan finished runners-up in the pool behind Singapore and were through to the last four.

Hosts Thailand, who topped pool A, halted Pakistan’s unbeaten run by registering a 5-1 victory in the semi-final. Kulsoom Shehzadi scored the lone goal for Pakistan.

Again in the playoff for the 3rd-4th positions, runners-up of the pool A Chinese Taipei, thumped Pakistan 4-1 to secure bronze. Ambreen Arshad scored the lone goal for Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Thailand routed Singapore 4-0 in the final to clinch the title.

History shows that women’s hockey has come a long way in Pakistan. Its roots at the national level are older than their cricket counterparts. Unfortunately, it could not reach at par with cricket mainly due to financial constraints. Cricket, as we know, walks away with the bigger chunk of sponsorship, leaving peanuts for the rest of the sports.

The ball was set rolling with the staging of inaugural National Women’s Hockey Championship at Lahore way back in 1976 and since then there was no stopping them. Eminent women like Begum Parween Atif, Begum Razia Azam Ali Beg, Begum Akhtar Sulaiman, Dr S. Khan and Mrs Surraya Aladin were among the pioneers of the game.

Begum Sulaiman, the founding president of the Sindh Women Hockey Association, used to take keen interest in the promotion of women’s hockey and chaired frequent meetings in her famous Lakham House residence in Karachi. Being the daughter of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, late Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, it was she who invited Begum Zia-ul-Haq to grace the final of third National Women’s Hockey Championship at the Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium in 1978.

Though in its infancy at the time, the standard of women’s hockey was remarkable. In Karachi alone, women hockey players used to turn up in large number at the YMCA regularly in the afternoon for practice. F. G. Minwala Girls School, Trinity Girls School, Airport Stadium were the other active centres of the game.

Such used to be the response of womenfolk that as many as 22 affiliated clubs of Karachi Division Women’s Hockey Association (KDWHA) participated in the Karachi Women’s Hockey Championship held at the YMCA in Jan 1980. Mazhar Sports, founded by the late Master Azhar Fatehpuri, won the top honours.

The same year former International Hockey Federation (FIH) President, the late Rene Frank, also witnessed an exhibition match of women hockey at the formerly Polo Ground during his visit to Pakistan on the occasion of second Champions Trophy. Earlier too in 1977, Frank had witnessed a women’s hockey match during his visit to Lahore.

It is pertinent to mention that the then International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Lord Killanin who was accompanied by his wife during his visit to Lahore in 1977, said: “No discrimination. All those games which are played by women will be included in the Olympics at Moscow Games in 1980.”

In the aftermath of the developments, Pakistan’s first-ever women’s hockey team was selected to compete in the inaugural Asian women’s hockey tournament that took place in Kyoto, Japan from Aug 24-30, 1981. Unfortunately the trip could not materialise.

However, Pakistan was represented in the Asian Ladies Hockey Association (ALHA) congress by Begum Parween Atif and Ms Bahira Mahmud. The former was elected founding president of ALHA in the congress that was preceded by merger of Asian Women’s Hockey Federation with ALHA in Pakistan in Oct 1980, resulting in formation of an ad-hoc body which elected the office-bearers in Japan.

The tournament was aimed at developing women’s hockey in the region and polishing techniques of players after women’s hockey made its debut at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Teams from Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore and hosts Japan featured in the contest.

Pakistan’s junior and senior women hockey teams have been featuring in regional events frequently since 2002.

Like many others, the Sindh Women Hockey Association (SWHA) was given a piece of land on lease under MLO 122 by the then Marshal Law Administrator Lt Gen S. M. Abbasi on Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman Road facing Delhi Colony. But the dream remained unfulfilled.

While summing up the history, it would be unwise not to remember the valuable contribution and advice of legendary Olympians including the late Khurshid Aslam, Habib-ur-Rehman, Latif-ur-Rehman, besides international umpire Shams-uz-Zaman, Mrs Noor Mazhar Hussain, Barrister Shahida Jamil, Mrs Naseem Usman Nagi, Master Azhar Fatehpuri, Masood Ali Khan aka Dadda and Danishmand Farroqi. They were among others who were pillar of strength at the launch of women hockey in the country in general and in Karachi in particular.

The present team deserves kudos and cash awards from the government which will be an incentive for encouraging them for the future assignments.

Published in Dawn October 19th, 2016