LAHORE: Pakistan junior hockey team captain Mohammad Abdullah on Saturday demanded the team is given more international exposure ahead of their participation in the Junior World Cup.

At the same time, Pakistan Hockey Federation secretary Haider Hussain demanded the government to do more in order to revive the national game.

Adressing a news conference on Saturday following the team’s return from Oman, where they surpassed expectations by reaching the final of the Junior Asia Cup, which they lost 2-1 to India, Abdullah said the team’s potential needs to be maximised.

“This team is immensely talented but to hone their skills further, the players need more matches,” he told reporters. “In our team, we had players who had never played an international game before the tournament but we all gelled together to play outstanding hockey.

“And despite the limited resources we have, we managed to qualify for the World Cup [by reaching the semi-finals of the Asia Cup].”

Pakistan’s Hanan Shahid was named player of the tournament while Abdul Rehman finished as the top-scorer and Haider appealed to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to step forward in support of the game.

“Hockey is recognised as the national game but if the government doesn’t want to support it, it should remove the title,” he stated.

“We at the PHF do not want cash from the government but we’re only asking it to take care of the players. The government has appointed a working committee on hockey affairs, which has not met the PHF so far.

“The PHF is not even in a position to pay daily allowances to this team which has given a stunning performance in Oman and had the [provincial] government of Sindh not provided us with a grant of Rs100 million and DHA Lahore not provided us with the facility to set up the training camp, we wouldn’t have been able to field the team.”

Hanan, meanwhile, echoed Abdullah’s view that foreign exposure would greatly benefit the team ahead of the World Cup in Malaysia at the end of the year. “That would be the best way to prepare for the tournament,” he told Dawn.

The team travelled to Oman after coach Adnan Zakir had left the training camp to attend to his ailing son in London. Instead, Dutchman Roeland Oltmans, who was hired as consultant for the tournament, acted as the head coach.

Haider denied that Adnan had left due to interference in team selection by PHF president retired Brig. Khalid Sajjad Khokhar. “If Adnan is spreading any negative news that there was a grouping in the team, he soon will realise his mistake as the PHF relieved him just to take care of his son. And the performance of the team is the best reply.”

Haider also revealed that he’d received welcome information that the Pakistan Sports Board is ready to hold national senior team’s training camp for the Asian Champions Trophy, set for India in August, and the September’s Asian Games in China.

Former Olympian Tauqir Dar, however, said at the news conference that the PHF should not rely on the government but instead look for “private sponsors”.

Former Pakistan captain Rehan Butt and former international Mohammad Saqlain added that the team’s performance showed there was hope for the future.

“This is just the start of a long journey for these players and they should continue to train and most importantly, maintain their fitness level,” Saqlain added.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2023

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