Hockey revival

Published June 6, 2023

FOR the last decade, Pakistan hockey has been searching for that turning point where its misfortunes are reversed. Perhaps that point has been reached. Pakistan’s junior team has returned after playing brilliantly at the Junior Asia Cup in Oman, where it lost 2-1 to India in the final. The performances have shown that at the youth level, Pakistan are on a par with other Asian nations. It is at the senior level where the gulf is wide. While the senior team failed to qualify for the World Cup earlier this year, the juniors will be headed to their second straight World Cup appearance in Malaysia at the end of this year. The players have asked for more exposure ahead of the Junior World Cup; naturally those appeals are directed at the government, with the cash-strapped Pakistan Hockey Federation accepting that it doesn’t have the funds to even pay the junior team players’ daily allowances. The PHF secretary admits that had it not been for sponsors, including the Sindh government, there would have been no training camp for the team. It’s a situation that is alarming — and embarrassing. Once the undisputed kings of world hockey, this is what the sport has been reduced to here. It has been only a few weeks since the Dutch head coach of the senior team severed his ties due to the non-payment of his salary for several months. He left because the Pakistan Sports Board stopped payments due to PHF’s strained ties with the government.

However, the juniors have shown that all is not lost. Maximising their talent, though, is what is needed to ensure that the gap between this lot and the teams they played against in Oman doesn’t increase. A crucial juncture in their development has been reached. Becoming the best team in Asia is the first step towards restoring Pakistan’s former status in the game. The young guns have shown they are not far behind.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2023

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