Rebuilding hockey

December 26, 2018

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The writer is a freelance contributor.
The writer is a freelance contributor.

PAKISTAN lost to Belgium 5-0 in the World Cup pre-quarter final match this year. For Belgium, the eventual winner, this was a great achievement. Several years ago, Pakistan (along with India) was the world’s hockey power house, whereas Belgian players were learning the skills watching Pakistan and India on video or inviting players from the subcontinent to play in Belgian cities. It is reported that Belgians could not hold their sticks in a proper manner — but today, they have emerged as champions in world hockey.

Pakistan was eliminated in the running for the Cup by losing all its matches except one which it drew with minions Malaysia.

Pakistan’s exemplary record in the World Cup and other international hockey tournaments is cited here to give an idea of why this country was known as one of the two power houses of the game. It won:

No effort is contemplated to achieve the goal.

• Hockey World Cup in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994

• Olympic Games in 1960, 1968, 1984

• Champions Trophy in 1978, 1980 and 1994

• Asian Games in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1990 and 2010

• Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 1999, 2000, 2003

Since 1994, for over two decades, Pakistan has not won any international championship in the senior league.

For the last few years, there have been several efforts to revive hockey in Pakistan, but all these have ended as damp squibs, with no more than a tamasha and very little seriousness regarding the objective. No effort or action plan is decided upon or contemplated to achieve the goal.

I watched Pakistan play in Mumbai and win the World Cup that year. I also made friends with Hassan Sardar, the Pakistan captain, and spent many pleasant hours discussing hockey in Pakistan. Four years later, I shifted to Karachi and met Hassan Sardar again as an alumni of the school of which I was the administrator. My interest in the game was further activated by five goodwill tours that I helped organise to India, following it up with the school hockey team’s visit to the UAE, Oman, Malaysia, and more recently to Sri Lanka, where we played against the youngsters of these countries.

It was seen that in these countries, hockey was played by young boys with great enthusiasm and a single-minded aim. In fact, says Shaista Javaid, former secretary of the Karachi Women’s Hockey Association and a star hockey player in her younger days, “Hockey should be played at the grass-roots level in schools and colleges, and good quality playing gear provided at affordable prices, with transport subsidy where reaching playing sites is expensive. … In Holland, youngsters start playing hockey at the age of six or seven years. Trained and certified coaches must oversee the progress of the youngsters.”

It is relevant to mention that after the school’s hockey team returned from India in 1997, three senior officials of the Indian Hockey Federation came to Karachi to study our system and training programme. It amazed them that one school in Pakistan had sent up to six Olympians, 11 Internationals, dozens of ‘Whites’ and scores of Pakistan Juniors, including two national captains (Hassan Sardar and Ahmed Alam), two of the highest goal scorers in the world (Hassan Sardar and Sohail Abbas) and the youngest hockey international who played for Pakistan in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he was only a class nine student (Safdar Abbas).

The game of hockey requires speed and agility in performance, in contrast to cricket. Hockey players must be groomed in athletics and swimming, considered the ‘mother’ of all sports. Trai­ning and grooming has to be done on fast-moving syn­thetic turf so that youngsters can respond and react, dribble and trap, dodge and scoop to achieve the target.

In 2003, I was ‘kicked up’ from administrator of the school to director of the Education Trust. Since I did not have too much on my plate, I spent my time looking for a synthetic turf that could be affordable for a school.

Hassan Sardar told me that should we succeed in providing a synthetic surface in a school campus, we would be the first to do so in Asia. He extended his support to our efforts.

Since new turfs were priced exorbitantly, we looked for ‘seconds’ (used turfs) and found one in Belgium. We finally succeeded in convincing the management, and a brand new sand-based AstroTurf with a tartar athletic track was laid on one of the three playing grounds of the school.

We had laid the base and it was now up to the school administration to show initiative and carry forward the objective and not engage in unfair criticism, witch-hunts and petty jealousies.

Training the young along scientific lines is perhaps the answer to rebuilding Pakistan hockey. Are we ready?

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2018