FIH gives one-day ultimatum to PHF over parallel bodies

Published April 25, 2024
PAKISTAN head coach Roelant Oltmans gestures during a media talk.—White Star
PAKISTAN head coach Roelant Oltmans gestures during a media talk.—White Star

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: It is no good news for Pakistan hockey which is already struggling badly for survival while facing crises and setbacks of all kinds.

Amid internal wrangling within the Pakistan hockey Federation, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) on Wednesday gave a brief yet sombre message to the federation which has witnessed a growing tussle for control between two rival groups in recent months.

In a letter written to the PHF, the FIH has set April 25 (today) as the deadline for Pakistan to determine one genuine body which can properly represent the country at the international level. Other­wise, the world governing body added, that Pakistan’s participation in the forthcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (May 4-11, Malaysia) and the Nations Cup (May 31-June 9, Poland), will remain in question.

The FIH gave the ruling after the Azlan Shah Cup organisers asked for guidance from the international body after two rival groups in Pakistan hockey — one headed by Tariq Hussain Bugti and the other by Shehla Raza — contacted the hosts for sending their teams to represent Pakistan.

Bugti was nominated by interim prime minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar while Shehla was nominated by PM Shehbaz.

“It is imperative that the situation is resolved [within the PHF] by the end of this week and it is determined who will be sending the teams to the upcoming tournaments. We request that the agreed outcome and details of the official representatives are clearly communicated to us, FIH, by the end of the day on Friday [April 25],” the FIH letter to the PHF said.

“Failure to reach an agreement between the two [rival] parties by this time will mean we will have no choice but to write to the Pakistan government or the Pakistan Olympic Association, requesting their intervention and resolution,” added the letter.

“For clarity, allowing one of these organisations to send a team to these tournaments [in Malaysia and Poland] will not necessarily lead to automatic recognition of this group as the official Pakistan Hockey Federation.

“We will need to go through the correct process to recognise them. But the urgent priority for this [ongoing] week is to resolve the situation such that the Pakistan athletes are able to compete in these upcoming tournaments,” it concluded.

According to the FIH letter, Tayyab Ikram, who is a Pakistani and current president of the game’s world governing body, has been kept separate from the issue because of being a man of the country working in the senior management of the FIH which is dealing with PHF’s affairs.

Meanwhile disturbed over the prevailing situation, the government has summoned both the groups in Islamabad on Thursday to resolve the issues between them.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the PHF patron-in-chief, tasked the Adviser on Youth Affairs Rana Mashood to look into the matter.

According to sources in the PHF, Mashood after listening to both the groups will decide the matter so that a strong and properly prepared national squad could be sent to Malaysia.

However in a clear sign of heightened tensions between the said factions, the Shehla group has conveyed to the government that they will sit separately for the meeting where their rival group will not be sitting.

Haider Hussain, the secretary of Shehla-headed group within the federation, told Dawn on Wednesday that their group would not sit with the Bugti group in today’s meeting while claiming that some officials included in the Bugti group were facing corruption charges and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cases against them were in final stages.

“Yes in order to resolve the issues we are ready to sit with the government representative, Rana Mashood, but separately, as corruption cases involving some former Olympians, who part of the Bugti group, are being investigated,” Haider underlined.

Rana Mujahid, the secretary of the Bugti faction, claimed they were the genuine and legitimate body of the game in Pakistan.

“On Thursday, my group will present [the] evidence to prove before the FIH that we are a legitimate body to run the PHF,” Mujahid said.

“Bugti took the vote of confidence from the PHF Congress in a meeting where the representatives of the Pakistan Olympic Association and Pakistan Sports Board were also present,” he added.

Interestingly, Mujahid speaking on the occasion said that he would announce a five-member selection committee on April 27 to pick the national squad for next month’s Azlan Shah Cup.

This assertion signals that the training camp he had set up in Islamabad a week ago is running without selectors.

It may be mentioned that both the groups have set up training camps for the forthcoming event in Malaysia. Shehla group is running their camp in Karachi.

It is the first time that the PHF has explicitly split into two factions, after the POA and some other federations witnessed similar issues in the past.

Both the PHF groups held their Congress meeting separately last month to elect Bugti and Shehla as their president. In Karachi, Shehla was elected by Congress members belonging to Sindh and Balochistan, while in Islamabad Tariq was elected by the Congress, whose members are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab hockey associations.

OLTMANS EYEING PRO LEAGUE QUALIFICATION

Meanwhile, Pakistan coach Roelant Oltmans said that his main target was to enable the team to qualify for the FIH Pro League.

The Dutch coach who is in contract with the PHF for the events in Malaysia and Poland and is supervising the camp set up at the Naseer Bunda Hockey Stadium for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, said that he was working to improve fitness of the players.

“We are concentrating on the job and my [primary] aim is to help Pakistan qualify for the Pro League. During the Azlan Shah Cup, the players will get a chance to improve their skills,” Oltmans said while adding that the national team required restructuring for which “there is a need to bring senior players”.

Oltmans emphasized that domestic hockey in Pakistan required attention and strong competitions at domestic level so that the game’s standard in the country could improve.

He said that any coach required ample time to develop a strong team and added that currently Pakistan had a number of talented players who could become stars in the future.

While 57 players are currently attending the camp in Islamabad, this strength is going to be reduced to 25.

The Pakistan squad, to be selected in coming days, is likely to travel to Malaysia on May 1 to play their first match of the Azlan Shah Cup against the hosts on May 4.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2024

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