KARACHI: The voluntary retirement by the entire Pakistan hockey team following their worstever World Cup performance a sham, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The squad had announced their retirement and took ‘full ownership and blame’ of the dismal performance. However, according to team sources that were present in New Delhi, members of the squad were ordered by the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) Secretary and Pakistan’s team manager Asif Bajwa to announce their retirement in order to avoid the media and public frenzy after finishing bottom in the event.
It was also revealed that senior players including worldrecord- holder Sohail Abbas, centre-forward Rehan Butt, goal-keeper Salman Akbar, captain Zeeshan Ashraf, Wasim Ahmed and Shakeel Abbasi had already decided to quit the game due to the embarrassing campaign.
Viewing the attitude of the senior players and the decision they had taken, Bajwa also convinced the younger members of the team to tender their resignation voluntarily.
Bajwa, according to sources, also told the players that providing they do as he had asked them to, they will be considered for future tours and tournaments since PHF President Qasim Zia was not going to accept the resignations anyway.
Following the resignation and the u-turn that followed, the players were told that they will be getting their places back in the national squad after the National Hockey Championship that is currently taking place in Karachi.
However, for the deposed coach Shahid Ali Khan, there was no such option. Khan was labelled a ‘dummy coach’ in the team, according to a playing member, and all the decisions were made by Bajwa, who had coached Pakistan 2002 to 2004.
Following the humiliation, a campaign to sack Bajwa was initiated by Olympians and prominent former internationals. While they were unhappy with the federation, they also expressed their reservation about players being fully fit. However, the national players hit back and disagreed with the former legends, including Islahuddin and Shahnaz Sheikh, that they were tired and physically unfit for the tournament.
“I don’t think we lost because we were unfit,” Butt told The Express Tribune. “We were tired because we had played three consecutive tournaments right before the World Cup but we were in a good shape for the tournament.”
Goal-keeper Akbar felt that the share of criticism coming his way was uncalled for as, according to him, the ball comes to him after it had gone through the rest of the team and as a result, he should not be held responsible for conceding all those goals.
According to a member of the national squad, the players were just as frustrated as the fans but the team did not have good physiotherapists and there is no video-monitoring system at the PHF that can help the team improve their game and become aware of their weaknesses. The source also added that the personal conflicts between the federation and the opposition is wrecking Pakistan hockey.
While the opposition are criticising Bajwa and the role he played, the national players seem happy with him. According to a member of the national hockey team, Bajwa understood the players very well and he guided them through torrid times but the conflict between the two parties will not improve the game in any way.
“I think we have great coaches in Pakistan,” said the source. “For example, Tahir Zaman is a very good coach but his differences with Bajwa are keeping him away from the coaching job which is costing Pakistan hockey dearly, especially at a time when we need a good coach desperately.”
The player, who does not wished to be named, told this newspaper that while they respect and treat the Olympians who are against them nicely, they are too old to understand the modern rules and regulation and their ideas are outdated.