Perhaps the first European field hockey player to catch the imagination of fans in Pakistan and India for his stick work and ball control, Stefan Blöcher, who played for the erstwhile West Germany from 1978 to 1992, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest forwards in the history of hockey. He twice won a silver medal at the Olympics (1984 and 1988) and also at the World Cup (1986). The mercurial Blöcher changed the concept that Europeans cannot dribble and feint; two skills probably more popular in the sub-continent than in Europe.
On the day of the final between Pakistan and West Germany in the first Hockey Junior World Cup in 1979, Dawn’s headline was ‘West German hopes rest only on Stefan Blöcher’ and the news item read: “German hopes rest heavily on the speed and resourcefulness of Stefan Blöcher who spearheads their attack. Only 18, he has stamped his class throughout this tournament ...”
Hockey journalist Leyland De Souza, while covering the second Champions Trophy in Karachi for the Times of India, commented on Blöcher: “His suppleness of wrists and agility of movement could compare favourably with Asia’s best.”
Hockey lovers in Pakistan, of the 1980s especially, remember him well. Pakistan hosted no less than six editions of the annual Champions Trophy in the 1980s and Blöcher was always a member of the German team. He also played at the 1990 World Cup in Lahore.
With fond memories, a hockey legend from Germany returns to Pakistan in a new role
Blöcher is now coming to Pakistan as a Genetic Ambassador with the Arcensus team. Arcensus is a German-based cross-functional team of genetic experts, medical doctors and data scientists who work to make the most sophisticated genetic interpretation with medical and health prevention applications that help diagnose diseases earlier, suggest better treatment options and help individuals to take preventive measures to live a healthier life.
Arcensus was founded by Professor Dr Arndt Rolfs MD, who is also its CEO. He and his team have been visiting Pakistan frequently since 2010, sometimes four times in a single year. Arcensus has diagnosed tens of thousands of Pakistani individuals through advanced genetic testing, for free, to help them lead a better life. For a long time, Arcensus’ work remained confined to Lahore. But since, 2020, they have extended their services to other metropolises as well.
Blöcher and the Arcensus team will be in Pakistan from March 20 to 31. Led by Prof Dr A. Rolfs, they will be visiting Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan and Karachi for diagnostic sessions and awareness seminars at PIMS in Islamabad, Khyber Institute of Child Health in Peshawar, the Children’s Hospital in Lahore, the Institute of Child Health in Multan and the Liaquat National Hospital in Karachi.
A meeting with the Prime Minister (political climate permitting) is also scheduled on the 21st. The team will also meet Federal Health Minister Dr Faisal Sultan and the Punjab health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid.
In Lahore, apart from the diagnostic sessions, there will also be an event in which the deputy ambassador of Germany will address the gathering. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Child Health Sciences will also speak on the occasion, which will be attended by, among others, sports stars including Pakistan’s former cricket captains Younis Khan, Misbahul Haq, Blöcher himself, hockey stalwart Tauqeer Dar (Olympic gold medallist, 1984) and Pakistan’s former soccer captain Kaleemullah.
This time Arcensus will have a special focus on sports persons. Sports persons, who are the most active and healthy individuals in society, who might also have some genetic conditions, which can result in clinical manifestations such as sudden heart attacks. Recently, we have seen cases such as that of Abid Ali (Pakistani cricketer), Christian Eriksen (Danish footballer), Sergio Aguero (Argentine footballer) and Shane Warne (Australian cricketer). Such incidents can be avoided if athletes are genetically tested with preventive actions taken proactively.
In Europe, some footballers who were diagnosed with a heart condition were fitted with the Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator after which they have been playing professional soccer.
Blöcher is keenly looking forward to visiting the country after a long time. “A German Pakistani working for Arcensus approached me to ask if I will be their Genetic Ambassador on a tour of Pakistan and I happily agreed to visit the country where I was treated like a star during my playing days. Despite being the most successful team sport for Germany at the Olympics, hockey has never enjoyed the media attention it deserves in my country,” he tells Eos over email.
He recalls the fan following in Pakistan. “I played in five editions of the Champions Trophy in Karachi, and earned a lot of admiration. People also recognised me in the city whenever we went out,” he says.
However, it was the 1990 World Cup in Lahore which provided him with the most cherished memory. “We were playing Pakistan in a pool match in front of around 45,000 spectators. An announcement was made in the stadium, ‘Today is Blöcher’s 30th birthday’ and throughout the match, whenever I touched the ball, the spectators wished me a happy birthday at the top of their voices. Then when the match ended, I threw my stick into the crowd. A scuffle broke out as they vied for the souvenir and security persons had to intervene. They returned the stick to me and asked me to keep it with me as they didn’t want any disturbance,” he says.
Blöcher regrets not winning gold at the Olympics or the World Cup. He has three silvers from the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and the 1982 World Cup. “At the 1984 Olympics, we had a good chance. We led Pakistan before going down 1-2 in the extra time. Four years later, at the Seoul Olympics, after topping the pool, Germany defeated Holland in the semi-final. I got a severe blow on the head from a rising penalty corner hit by Bovelander and had to sit out the final in which we unexpectedly lost to Great Britain,” he says.
His all-time favourite hockey players are also Pakistani. “During the early years of my international career, I was fascinated by the speed and skill of brothers Samiullah and Kaleemullah, and also by the artistry of Hasan Sardar. Later, it was the incomparable Shahbaz Ahmed.”
Blöcher’s extraordinary skills meant that the top German hockey clubs paid him well to keep the maestro on their roster. Apart from the German clubs, he played for the Brisbane Blades in Australia. He also had contracts with stick and shoe manufacturers. All this meant Blöcher was a full-time professional; hockey was the sole source of his income, something completely unheard of in those days. The media called him ‘the first hockey professional in Germany.’
“After my playing days, I got involved in golf administration and have been managing golf courses and tours/tournaments in Germany,” he says.
Blöcher is perturbed about Pakistan hockey’s pathetic state. “It is painful that the country which ruled the hockey world for such a long time is presently ranked 18th and has failed to qualify for the last two Olympics. Pakistan should take a cue from India. Their hockey also went through a very bad phase. India couldn’t qualify for the 2008 Olympics. But they picked up the pieces and gradually improved. India’s bronze at the last Olympics is a result of their sound domestic structure, increased sponsorship and coaching along the modern lines,” he points out.
About his visit here, he says that he feels happy and proud to be in Pakistan as a Genetic Ambassador. “If I can play a small role in making the people here realise the importance of genetic diagnosis, it will be a little payback of the affection I received from Pakistanis during my playing days.”
The writer is a freelance sports journalist based in Lahore
He tweets @ijazChaudhry
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 20th, 2022