IT is nothing short of a national shame. For the second consecutive time, the Pakistan hockey team failed to qualify for the Olympics. After their failure to make the grade in the Rio Games in 2016, the few hopes that Pakistan harboured for the Tokyo 2020 Games were dashed on Sunday when Holland defeated them 6-1 in the second qualifier to book a berth at the Olympics. Though the Pakistanis had shown some spark in the first qualifier when they had held hosts Holland to a 4-4 draw, they allowed the Dutch to trample all over them in the second match. However, such has been the state of Pakistan hockey over the past two decades that it came as no shock to fans and critics when the team failed to qualify. For the mandarins who run the hockey show, though, the priorities lay elsewhere. The harsh truth is that the national sport has been reduced to a game of musical chairs, where the Olympians of yesteryear have taken turns to deprive hockey of both prestige and funds. Pakistan — three-time Olympic winners in 1960, 1968 and 1984 — are currently ranked at 17th in world hockey.
Meanwhile, the country’s obsession with cricket has not helped as hockey’s sponsors and well-wishers have switched their loyalties to the gentleman’s game, the highly successful PSL being a prime example. A similar plan to raise a private league to revive hockey’s flagging fortunes has sadly not taken off, primarily due to the ineptitude of the Pakistan Hockey Federation and the government’s indifferent attitude. The sport has undergone a major transformation over the years insofar as pace and technique as well as rules and regulations are concerned. The European nations have adapted well to the change. But Pakistan hockey seems to be still playing the old-style game more suited to the 1970s and 1980s. Pakistan will have to alter the entire pattern of play if they want to ensure a place for themselves at the Paris 2024 Games.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019