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Pakistani hockey players: Best not to break a leg

Published Jul 25, 2012 11:57am


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Contrary to what many may think, hockey is actually a pretty bruising sport. -File photo

Salman Akbar is a veteran goal-keeper who made his debut for Pakistan in 2001. Termed by Olympian Shahid Ali Khan as one of the most hard-working players in the game, Akbar has won the 2005 Rabo Trophy and the 2010 Asian Games gold medal with Pakistan. He was adjudged the ‘best keeper’ in both events. Here, he reveals the pressures surrounding Pakistani hockey players, who according to him have very uncertain and insecure futures.

To a casual observer watching the game on television, hockey may seem like a fairly harmless sport. On the pitch, it is a completely different story. The fast-paced modern game is akin to pitting 22 gladiators in an extremely tight arena.

In my 11-year professional career, I have come across a lot of players whose prospects of top-level hockey ended in either school or college after sustaining serious injuries to the head and other parts of the body. It is not something the parents of young hopefuls readily subscribe to.

I can recall several incidents in order to explain the extent of these on-field injuries. Craig Parnham of England suffered one of the most gruesome injuries while playing against Pakistan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in 2001. During a short corner Sohail Abbas' stick caught Parnham's throat in the follow through, smashing his windpipe. He was rushed to the hospital and after days of intensive treatment, he was able to survive. The incident almost cost him his life, but thankfully, the defender fully recovered and even got his voice back.

While Parnham was lucky, other players like Australia's Lizzie Watkins and junior Indian player Deep Kumar Dogra unfortunately succumbed to the injuries they suffered on the field.

The grind starts very early for a hockey player and even after making through these early stages, it takes a lot of sacrifices, energy and hard work for junior players to break into the national level. If successful, a long career beckons, and with it comes more competition and hard work and obviously a lot more for the body to bear. For most players, the real extent of these injuries only begins to surface once their playing days are over and the fitness levels are not what they used to be.

In the backdrop of all the above, it is unbelievable that players in Pakistan do not have any medical insurance! In other words, if a player is injured while representing the country or even playing domestic tournaments, he is to bear all the expenses of the treatment himself. Self-financing usually delays the time it takes between the injury and the treatment, causing in some cases irreparable damage. The player then has to make several visits to Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) office to get reimbursed for the treatment costs.

I can understand that funding is an issue for which the government can be blamed, but also believe that the PHF has enough money to hand out insurance packages to the players which covers all injuries. The PHF has to understand that the players are its employees. Only those companies make it to the top who take good care of their employees. Whenever a training camp is announced, the PHF always names a doctor and or a pyhsio along with the players. However, an ordinary physio accompanying the national team is not the solution to the problem.

I have seen a lot of up-and-coming players whose careers have been stalled or cut short because of a lack of proper treatment, for which the costs are very high even in Pakistan. Going abroad to get operated upon further delays the process purely because of financial reasons.

One of the best players in the world, Jamie Dwyer of Australia, suffered a serious knee injury at the 2003 Champions Trophy playing against Pakistan. Following the incident, his federation invested in him because they knew his worth. Consequently, Jamie got fit in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics, scoring the golden goal against the Holland to give Australia its first gold medal at the Games.

On the other hand Mudasar Ali Khan suffered a knee injury at 2005 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. After that he never put on the green shirt and I can say that Pakistan have struggled to find a genuine right mid-fielder since.

It is imperative that all players be insured so that they can perform without any fears on the pitch and not worry about running around like beggars afterwards to claim reimbursements.

I have been playing league hockey in Holland for the last four years. When I first arrived here in 2008, I was told there were two requirements that I would have had to fulfill to be eligible to play. First and most obvious was a work permit. And second was mandatory health insurance.

In Holland, not a single individual is without the basic health insurance, not even the resident aliens. The situation in Pakistan is completely different, for a lot of different reasons. However, as far as the professional players are concerned, the onus is on the PHF to fix this so that players feel secure.

The structure of the game in Holland is professionally managed – and I am not just talking about the top league. Even the second division has everything in place from professional medics to video analysts. It ensures for a very strong foundation.

Pakistan has clearly lacked on this front and failed to get on with the times.

The Dutch league almost always has several top international players competing in it. Even the second league ropes in internationals to strengthen their respective teams. The local boys study, work and train side-by-side. Clubs work with the players to accommodate all of this, and they respond by being focused on the field. The boys usually train six times a week and I have never seen them just meandering on the pitch, even after a hard day’s of work. The progress of the Dutch is quite evident.

A season in Holland lasts for six months, with a three-month break for winter. They have one system in place for all age groups. Players, across the board, play with the right spirit and respect the umpires’ calls. In my four years, I have never seen any fights, even though there have been some poor umpiring decisions.

In Pakistan, first of all we don't have a league system. The domestic tournaments are lost in the archives like dinosaurs. The only event left is the national championship which is held every year with a maximum duration of two weeks. Only the players in the national junior and senior camps compete in it, in addition to the department veterans.

But what about all the other players who are not on the fringes of the senior or junior teams?  They go to their respective clubs where I would say the training they get is mediocre at best. Simply put, they are not getting any coaching there. Despite of this, they keeping working hard, hoping to one day don the green jersey because that’s all we that have at our disposal.

I don’t have any doubt that Pakistan is an extremely talented hockey nation despite the countless setbacks that we have experienced. Talent, however, is not enough to compete at the international level and aim to regain our lost glory. This talent should get the best financial support. They should not be worried about the costs of getting injured, life after retirement and all the baggage that comes with the life of a sportsman. Promising players must be given all the respect and confidence, as well as real modern coaching. Such players should be kept on par with other nations through a strong domestic structure.

In the Dutch leagues, a quality Pakistani player is still very much in demand. They believe the skills of our players are unmatched.

We need to face the problems plaguing our national hockey set up and change the way we treat our national game.

Hockey gave me every thing and I firmly believe that we can return to the podium once again, if we act now.


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Comments (32) Closed

Salman Akbar Jul 25, 2012 02:36pm
You are absolutely correct. I forget to mention his case in my column and feeling very about it. But its true that if he was insured may be was with his kids and family. I hope PHF will listen it and will take it seriously. Hope PHF will understand and will agree on what i am saying and will not take it -ve which they usually do. i am just trying to be the voice of the players. Which cant even speak a word because they are scared of being kicked out of the team.
Salman Akbar Jul 25, 2012 02:39pm
No need to thank me brother. I know all i will write will be very shocking but i can tell you that its all true and all the players just cant say any thing even some can but they don't they are coward and can only talk in the rooms. But i am just trying to tell the nation that why Pakistan team is on number 8 in world ranking.
Khizr Jul 26, 2012 01:29pm
A great article Salman! and a great discussion on it from the participants, specially Scott from Australia. Players need a voice and since you now have experience of playing in Holland too, you are the best voice for Pakistani players. Keep writing and it will bring a positive change for Pakistani Hockey.
Salman Akbar Jul 25, 2012 02:32pm
I am trying to bring the hidden realities so that every one should know that why Pakistan is on the number 8 in the world ranking. Then all the officials of PHF tells a different story to the nation. thanks for your motivation :)
Avtar Jul 25, 2012 02:47pm
WOW - Very good and insightful article. Never realised there was no facility for hockey players to get reimbursed (easily) for treatment. Living in UK I guess we have the NHS which is a great fall back for any player without insurance. Ultimately I guess players at, or touching international level, should get both medical and dental insurance provided for by the respective federations. Hopefully your article can help in pushing this issue forward. Looking forward to reading your next post
Salman Akbar Jul 25, 2012 02:24pm
You are absolutely correct. i missed his name in my column and feeling bad about it. But yes if he was insured then may be he was between us now a days and with his family and kids. I miss him as he was my senior and i learnt a lot from him. I hope PHF will listen and will agree what i am saying.
Salman Akbar Jul 25, 2012 02:20pm
No need to thank me brother. there so many things which people should know. i am sure when reality will come on screen no one blame Pakistan hockey players for the recent ranking of Pakistan hockey team in the world. I am just traying to be the voice of the players which cant even speak and scared of being kick out of the team.
Samreena Jul 25, 2012 01:33pm
Hi Salman...Congrates for d 2nd collum...Im Samreena Here...According to your latest post...I highly believe and agree with your statement that players must have a medical insurance,,,as they are into this highly profile game that includes them in the world high class matches n leagues...its a very sad thing to say that not having a medical insurance is a lacking the pakistani players to show their best in their field...there wuz this player... a dear friend of mine...Qasim..he wuz pakistan's national hockey team goal sure that you are aware of what has happened to him...he is no longer between us..Phf might have saved his life if the ''medical insurans'' wuz on the road..he had to bear all the expenses of the treatment by himself. Self-financing usually delays the time it takes between the injury and the treatment, by causing him his life ..its pretty sad to see how our brave and talented players are suffering from this situation...this players are the key of success for the pakistan's glory...Please PHF...put your interest in them...dont loose your players...SAVE them
ayaz khan Jul 26, 2012 11:54am
great work salman akber, although we all have some idea about the financial status of hockey players but we did not know it in so much depth. from your column i can conclude that at least player injuries can be soled through health insurance which must not be a difficult job for PHF. another thing would advise to hockey player of pakistan to invest their energies in dutch hockey. they know how much are you worth.
sambar Jul 26, 2012 11:37am
Dear Salman Bahi, What you write i am agree with you. I think there is difference in pakistani and european system. First priority of european player is study and work and then they do sports (but not as a profession, only few do that). Pakistani players (young players specially) think that if they can represent pakistan then study is not necessary or they can earn money and career is not important then (although players in europe also do 'ordinary' jobs) and they are not always looking towards Government to provide jobs and help them. Regarding insurance offcourse phf or governement must provide insurance to players who are representing pakistan on national or international level. Here again for local clubs and normal people they pay monthly fee for insurance or club so clubs arrange those insurances. I think in Netherlands you also have to pay for the insurance from your earnings. We have to admit that we lack in terms of resources, fields and even ourselves confidence. It is really shameful for us that How much a hockey player earns in Pakistan even representing at national level. If nation know how much daily you get when you are in a camp or what is your earning per month then they can imagine what they are expecting and what is reality. Again we should have an open check and balance so everyone should know what is going on so players who are in team can also speak about matters openly
Salman Akbar Jul 26, 2012 06:40pm
Well players don't think that if they will represent the national team then there is no need to study. This is the culture of hockey in Pakistan which force them to think this way and no one tell them that this is not what gonna happen. Thats what actually i am trying to say and will keep saying that we need to change the culture and should show a real picture to a beginner so he or his parents can choose what to do. If we will have good future and security for the player then i am sure parents will also want send their kids to play hockey.
Salman Akbar Jul 26, 2012 06:35pm
Dear Scott, I do understand all your points actually this all what i also want and have a firm believe that this is the way we can be strong in world hockey. I specially thanks to Dawn to give me the opportunity to write and bring my thoughts in front of the world about Pakistan hockey. We actually have to accept that it was past when we use to rule the world hockey and now we are on number 8th. We have to accept that now its our time to learn from other countries rather then forcing all the old methods and wait for the miracles. I really appreciate all your words you wrote and will defiantly will use your advise in my coming articles :) Hope you will follow them. Regards, Salman
Salman Akbar Jul 26, 2012 06:42pm
Totally agree and really sorry i missed his name in my article. You are 100% correct if he was insured at least he would not be on the news and appealing for the funds for his treatment.
Haidery Jul 26, 2012 07:28pm
Thanks Salman for this insight and appreciate Scott's concern and comments! Mate you have highlighted some good points here. The problem is once cricket became all too a powerful sport, people have lost interest in hockey specially after the national team started declining. Not offcourse realizing the fact that the decline was not players fault but because of administration. While Cricketers can make loads of money and have central contracts, sponsor deals and what not, hockey players didn't even have insurance. I always watched Pakistan play Australia as it was always fun and exciting. Never liked the European boring style of possession and control. Both of our countries and also India when they used to be good, played attacking hockey with flair and excitement. Pakistan hockey has declined but its still very talented and could compete at any level. For it to be best again, a better admnistration of players and better coaching is absolutely needed.
Jawwad Jul 26, 2012 03:06pm
Salman! I commend you for taking the initiative and bring about some of the areas PHF needs to look into. Scott, Great points and thank you for your input and from others. My father was closely embedded with Pakistan Hockey of 70's and 80's as he was also a FIH member which is why it pains me to see the decline in public interest in Hockey though the players effort is still there.. As a whole, commercialism in sports maybe on high but as the games evolve the PHF and other sports boards are still operating in their colonial ways. The logistics and resources are there for us to take advantage of. What's missing is the intent as it requires you to rise above your petty issues and collectively work toward a common goal. We saw our golden times of 60's, 70's and 80's because Hockey at that time was managed by the remnants of those Gentlemen who helped create Pakistan and since the management has shifted to Ex-Players only. Jealousies and other factors during their playing times have lead to disharmony in today's management which ultimately trickles down to team and we all know the results. The current players' are more fit and skilled than their counterparts but just don't the continuation as a team to improve in rankings. Fining players who played in India Hockey League to allow them to play for Pakistan again tantamount to distortion and nothing else. I dare say the current team will beat the team of 80's in their full-fledged by 10 goals.
Scott Jul 27, 2012 09:57am
Hi Salman, I look forward to reading your next article and thanks to Dawn for letting you voice your opinion. Best wishes Scott
Scott Jul 27, 2012 09:21am
Thanks Haidery. Insightful comments from you also and I agree with your points. I can appreciate why players will go to cricket due to the money factor. The situation is the same in Australia as there are many professional sports (AFL, soccer, rubgy league, rubgy union, cricket, tennis, basketball etc) that a child can play and offer them a good future if they are good enough. Australian hockey players still have their day jobs train at odd times due to work commitments. Hockey is a respected sport though and the national team's performance has not declined due to competition from other sports. It is getting more mainstream now too with FMG (massive company) as team sponsor and the Lanco series in Perth last year. I think the real reason why Pakistan hockey is suffering is because administrators haven't really done anything. All you have to do is take one look at the PHF website. Who is going to sponsor an organisation if they can't even maintain a decent website? Compare this to Hockey Australia's website and you can easily see the difference. The last news story on the PHF was on 18 December 2011 and they even have the old FIH logo (which was replaced years ago!). I ask, where are the links to your Facebook or Twitter page? Where is the "About Us" section which gives you an idea about Pakistan hockey, number of players, governance, goals/aims, board members etc? Where are player profiles from men and women's national teams? Where are the sponsors listed on the site? Where are the fan forums? Where are the videos? Where are player interviews? Where are the "clubs near you" section? Where are league tables of domestic competitions? Match reports? I could go on forever. I don't want to sound harsh but it is quite pathetic really and is a clear indicator that no one is doing anything.
Salman Akbar Jul 27, 2012 09:24pm
Hope its not HEAVY ;)
Salman Akbar Jul 26, 2012 06:49pm
Dear Salman Munir, Your suggestion is accepted :) This is what i really cant understand that why these bosses don't understand these basic points. But once again thanks to Dawn for giving me the opportunity to write and now we all will get together and will save our national game and on the the top our beautiful PAKISTAN!!!
Salman Akbar Jul 26, 2012 06:51pm
if you are talking about Jamie Dwyer then its not wrong :)
Salman Munir Jul 25, 2012 03:59pm
Salam Sallu Bhai, I have watched almost your every interview and these articles. PHF lacks very badly in so many policy, procedures and criteria’s who is producing or you can say responsible to produce professional hockey players. I am sure that there are so many old players who played international hockey leagues like you are playing and now they are serving in PHF as officials. My question is, didn’t they learned any thing by playing international hockey leagues, if yes then why didn’t they apply their experiences in PHF, why the players didn’t got their basic things ??? I suggest you to work hard, learn as much you can and then try to fix all these lacking areas in PHF.
Kashif Jul 25, 2012 01:49pm
Salman, Quite right you are, In Pakistan we are lacking sports infrastructure and facilities in all kind of sports and specially in hockey. Players are facing problems like career counseling,medical insurance. coaching facilities and last but not the least financial issues. The comparison between Holland and Pakistan in this article is really detailed. I hope that PHF get some lessons learned from their past mistakes, and should consult players like you to contribute in building good hockey environment all over the country. Great Post. Keep writing :)
Mansoor Iqbal Jul 25, 2012 12:34pm
Salman Akbar thank you so much for this insight on Pakistan Hockey . It comes as a shock to me that the hockey players are not provided with medical insurance.
Scott Jul 25, 2012 04:26pm
Great article Salman. Countries like Australia (where I am from) have based our game around the Pakistani's and Indian's. Indeed, we are all taught at a very young age of the "India Dribble" or have used a "Karachi King" hockey stick. The quality in Pakistani hockey is still there, however, like you mentioned, there are a few things holding you back, which can be easily fixed (depending on whether the PHF is aware of these issues and have the desire to make Pakistan hockey great again). A few areas where I think Pakistan need to improve are: 1) Developing and valuing your players and have a comprehensive national training program in place at all levels (men and women). 2) You need to create a city based professional league. 3) Physical fitness. If you measure a Pakistani player against an Australian, New Zealander or European, they are much smaller and don't have as much muscle mass. You need to have a good diet and gym and running sessions tailored for hockey. This is what India are doing as Michael Nobbs said they are about 8kg too light to compete. 4) Engage in sports science. This will feed into point 3) and give you a critical edge over your opponents. 5) Get rid of this mentality of "they are seniors and they are juniors." All players should be equal and selection is based on quality and how they fit into the team pattern alone. 6) Implement a strategic plan for your national team and development teams. Chopping and changing your team every tournament will never help and you can never build structure or continuity this way. 7) Hire an Australian coach. The Australian game is based around the Pakistan and Indian game mainly because we were tired of losing to you all the time. Since then we have implemented many of the steps above and have raised the bar further but Pakistan didn't do anything unfortunately. Australian's play attacking hockey, which suits Pakistan's style, whilst incorporating all the cutting edge training and tactical techniques. German and Dutch coaches have totally different styles and it does not suit to sub-continent game. 8) Send national players to visit schools to teach and inspire youngsters. I hope you get it right because world hockey needs a strong Pakistan! Pakistan Zindabad!
azkhan71 Jul 25, 2012 05:34pm
Salman, First of all thank you so much for such a nice article and definitely an eye opening article. Secondly, I 100% agree with you that Pakistan is full of talented players but the biggest drawback is PHF's lack of support. In today's hockey level, a player need physical fitness along with his talent. Look at the European, Australian teams, their players & their fitness which is no match for our players. Not only we need a strong infrastructure but also an honest administration who works towards the player and setting their future. Hopefully, one day we will get a true & honest administrator like Late Noor Khan who brings our hockey team's glory back and once again Pakistani team bring back all the trophies and titles for it's people....Ameen.
Waqas Jul 25, 2012 05:39pm
Hey Salman, hope you're doing well. You're one of the best goal keepers Pakistan has produced in recent decades. Really sad to see you missing out London Olympics but hope soon we'll see you in action. You've lot of achievements under your belt. Your insights area really great and unique in the sense that I've not read any such good suggestions by any Pakistani Player at least not in papers like Dawn. Please share more insights. Your insights about insurance and etc are totally spot on. PHF should definitely do something about it, but alas they will only do something about it once they're done giving favours to people they like. I really like the article. Please post more articles soon.
Ijaz Chaudhry Jul 25, 2012 07:03pm
Medical care in a sport like hockey is essential. Players are vulnerable to serious injuries because of the nature of the game. Also agree that a national league should be started. Almost every hockey nation, big or small, has a hockey league. Even Bangladesh league is quite lucrative and stars from Pakistan and India like Shahbaz and Pilley have plied their trade there.
ahmet abdulaziz Jul 26, 2012 04:26am
the PHF must take hockey more seriously. There is much serious work to be done.
shah Jul 26, 2012 12:31am
agreed with you. becz players are play for the 10-15 year than finished govt must give permanent jobs secure career then they give thier golden performance and as for as i know personally lot of player they better than pak players but due no reffernce they out from the team.
SalooBhai Jul 26, 2012 03:58am
Excellent article. Wish u good luck
Ali Noor Jul 26, 2012 05:11am
Alas, I would add misery faced by goal keeper Muhammad Qasim who was hit in the chest by a ball while representing Pakistan in 2004. He underwent two surgeries to remove clotting, but both were unsuccessful due to accumulation of water in his lungs. He has to rely on donations from different sources for his treatment. Even Paksitan Cricket Board also contributed for his treatment in USA. This poor lad passed away at the age of 32 only.
newbie Jul 26, 2012 08:13am
You wrote 'One of the world’s best players in the world'. Thats wrong.