HOCKEY: A DECADE WITHOUT DAR

Published June 13, 2021
Pakistan playing against Australia during the 1960 Rome Olympics
Pakistan playing against Australia during the 1960 Rome Olympics

A decade has passed since the demise of Munir Dar, a member of Pakistan’s first-ever Olympic gold medal-winning hockey team, of 1960. Widely acknowledged as the finest right full-back to represent Pakistan, Munir left for his heavenly abode on June 1, 2011.

I was in Holland with the Dar Hockey Academy the day he died. As the name suggests, the academy was a brainchild of Munir Dar. The Dar Hockey Academy was about to play the opening match of its 2011 European tour when the sad news arrived. The academy officials wanted to cancel the match but Munir’s son — Taqueer, who was also Dar Hockey Academy’s president — advised from Pakistan to fulfill the commitment. Observing a minute’s silence in the memory of the departed legend before the match, the academy team then went on to play the game wearing black armbands.

Munir Dar lived a remarkable, rather enviable life. Born in 1936 in Amritsar, the young Munir moved to Lahore in 1947. In his new home, he discovered the hockey stick, which started his life-long love affair.

Blessed with a strong, athletic physique, Munir displayed all the attributes of a solid defender at the right full-back position. Moreover, he was a wonderful striker of penalty corners. All this meant he was soon on the radar of the national selectors. The 19-year-old Munir earned a spot in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

At Melbourne, Pakistan won their first Olympic medal in any discipline — silver. Young Munir’s display in the final was memorable, and there was no looking back for him after that.

Munir created a sensation at the 1958 Asian Games held in Tokyo, Japan. He was instrumental in Pakistan’s 8-0 victory against South Korea, who had just made headlines by restricting India, the undisputed king of hockey at that time, to a 2-1 victory against them. Despite being the stronger side, India could only beat Korea by a single goal. In Pakistan’s match, he successfully converted as many as five successive penalty corners — a feat never achieved in international hockey before and only equalled since then.

Munir Dar, who passed away 10 years ago, was not just one of Pakistan’s most legendary hockey players. His legacy to the country’s hockey is still very much alive and his influence extended to many other sports

In the tournament, Munir scored eight goals on penalty corners, but his five against Korea made all the difference. The hockey tournament of the 1958 Asiad was played on a single league basis. The Pakistan-India match ended scoreless and the two sides finished with equal points. But Pakistan won the gold on goal difference, largely due to their big win against the Koreans.

Two years later, Munir again figured in Pakistan’s winning gold in the Rome Olympics, ending India’s 32-year hegemony. He remained Pakistan’s first choice until his retirement after the 1966 Asian Games, when he had the honour of captaining the national side.

In three Olympic appearances, he garnered one gold and two silvers. In as many appearances in the Asian Games, Munir’s medal cabinet had two golds and one silver.

Before his exit from the international scene, Munir had already groomed his younger brother, Tanvir Dar, as his successor. Tanvir, also a right full-back, was a member of the 1968 Olympic gold medal-winning team. He also reigned supreme at the inaugural World Cup in 1971, where he was the tournament’s top scorer, with eight goals for the victorious Pakistan side.

The Dar success story continued and Munir’s eldest son Taqueer completed the unique family treble when he figured in the Pakistan team which, in 1984, won the country’s third and, to-date, last Olympic gold medal.

His second son Taseer was a stand-by for those Olympics. It was only dirty politics that Taseer couldn’t don the green shirt, because experts rated his penalty corner strike more powerful and accurate than any of the other Dars. All this had a disheartening impact on the youngest son Tafseer, who had also been showing great promise, to the extent that he decided to say goodbye to hockey and turned his attention to cricket. Tafseer Dar played first-class cricket for quite some time.

Munir also coached Pakistan’s senior and junior national sides in the 1970s and ’80s.

But hockey was only one part of Munir Dar’s multi-faceted personality. He had an eye for horses and owned several race horses. His stable won many races at the Lahore Race Club.

Dar Sahib was also the founding president of the Pakistan Karate Federation and also served in the executive committee of the Pakistan Rugby Federation. A police officer by profession, he was the chairman of the Police Sports Board from 1985 to 1995. His tenure is remembered as the golden decade of police sports. The policemen won laurels not only at the national level but also made Pakistan proud at the Asian and world level.

At the 1990 Asian games, 400-metres hurdler and policeman Ghulam Abbas won the athletics gold for Pakistan after 16 years — no Pakistani has won since. Bodybuilders Yahya Butt and Mansoor Butt, also from the police service, won the Mr Asia title. The Pakistan volleyball team too had a great run from the late 1980s to the mid-’90s, remaining a potent force at the Asian level. Many policemen regularly won selection in the national volleyball line-ups during that period. Dar was also instrumental in raising the Asian-style kabaddi team of the Police. Again, quite a few members of the police squad represented Pakistan’s national squads, which won medals at the Asiads.

Blessed with an excellent memory, Dar was also a reservoir of stories from the sports world. Sports-lovers like me would spend hours in his company and never felt bored as he came out with interesting and informative tales from so many sports disciplines.

Coming back to his discipline of hockey, under Munir Dar’s direct supervision, the Police team won the national championships in 1993 for only the second time; the first was way back in 1960, when Munir himself was a member of the team.

The year 1994 saw Pakistan hockey’s last hurrah on the global stage. The Green Shirts won the World Cup after 12 years and the Champions Trophy after 14 years. The Police team provided five players in the national outfits for the two tournaments, which was more than any other department’s contribution.

Munir Dar was an institution in himself. Bold and vocal, he never hesitated in calling a spade a spade and was much feared by the incompetent and failed sports administrators of the country, who often had to face his wrath.

Hockey remained his first love throughout. He was greatly depressed to witness the continuous decline of Pakistan hockey. On Munir’s suggestion, his son Taqueer established the Dar Hockey Academy, in late 2006, to nurture young talent. Within a few years, the academy became the greatest reservoir of hockey talent in the country, with its boys regularly featured in all the Pakistani national sides, in the senior as well as junior teams.

The 19-year-old Munir Dar had debuted for Pakistan in 1956. Sixty-five years on, his legacy continues in the shape of Pakistan’s finest hockey nursery. Whenever a Dar Academy boy dons the coveted green shirt, Munir must be smiling down at him from up there.g

The writer can be reached at ijaz62@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 13th, 2021

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