Lamenting that players of Pakistan’s national hockey team were working as drivers to make ends meet, captain Ammad Shakeel Butt on Monday called for the restoration of hockey departments to provide reliable income streams to athletes.

Former prime minister Imran Khan had instructed the management of the Pakistan Hockey Federation in 2020 to make structural changes in its set-up, reduce the number of teams for national championship and establish centres of excellence in all four provinces.

In an interview on DawnNewsSports programme ‘Replay’, Butt said: “Many of our players of the national and international team don’t have jobs and can’t run their households. There are some players representing the national team who are also working as Uber drivers.

He requested Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to solve the issues regarding the closure of hockey departments, requesting to reopen them as soon as possible.

Butt said the problem was that the board was not financially strong. “My request to the government is to pay attention to the hockey federation, please,” he said.

“You have taken a very good initiative to send the team to the Azlan Shah […] support the hockey federation as much as possible,” he said, adding that the president and the secretary of the hockey federation wanted to provide the players with central contract but that could only happen if the government properly supported them.

“For a long time, the Pakistan hockey team was being treated as a stranger,” Butt rued, saying that there was no government or media support for the team.

He called on all institutions to ensure that the national side did not face hindrances during their participation in upcoming hockey events.

Speaking on the team’s future outlook, the captain said that he was hopeful Pakistan would manage to finish in the top three of the FIH Hockey Nations Cup in Poland.

“If we qualify in the top three then our world ranking, which is 15 now, could go into the top ten,” he said.

Talking about his arrival in the country, he said he could not believe that there was “still so much respect for hockey in the hearts of the Pakistani people”.

“When we landed at the airport, I was sure that the pilot had landed the plane in a different country,” he said, adding that he was surprised to see the passion in the crowd.

“The reception given by the people made me very happy,” he said.

The Pakistan hockey team was given a hero’s welcome on their arrival in Lahore on Sunday following their silver medal finish at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where they narrowly lost in the final to a defensively stoic Japanese side on penalties.

Pakistan remained unbeaten en route to the final but were left ruing their missed opportunities in the final where Japan came from behind and floored them in a penalty shootout.

Upon arrival at Lahore, the team was greeted by a huge crowd, who presented the silver medalists’ with garlands and bouquets at the airport.

Some fans were also seen holding placards and banners congratulating the team for their achievement against all odds.

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