The green shirts have fallen, but can they rise again?
It is unbelievable how Pakistan’s hockey team manages to hit new lows, especially when we already feel it is at its lowest point. If not making it to the 2014 World Cup in Hague was not enough, the green shirts have also failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Pakistan ranked eighth out of 10 as it finished miserably in the world hockey league in Antwerp, a performance that erases all hope of our team getting a ticket to Rio. There is no doubt that Pakistani hockey finds itself in a mess which needs radical and drastic changes in order to bring back the game on its feet.
If the concerned people are ready to swallow the bitter pill, I am going to put forth five major points that need to be addressed in order to improve our team.
Stop politicising the game
The government should stop politicising hockey by favouring and electing their own party workers for higher posts in the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), the governing body of hockey.
Qasim Zia lost a provincial assembly seat in Lahore, so he was offered the PHF presidency position by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Akhtar Rasool faced a similar fate, but did not have to worry about his electoral defeat for a long time as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered him the responsibility of running all affairs regarding hockey in our country.
Choose the right people to run the organisation
PHF should be run like a proper organisation. People at the helm of affairs should be selected on a competitive basis, i.e. people who are willing and have a vision should be bought on board. It is definitely not a place for political cronies to enjoy the perks and privileges of their party being in power. The PHF president should be an individual who has the required business acumen and would be able to run it on professional lines, while the secretary should ideally be a former hockey player who can oversee game related matters.
This combination is necessary to bringing back the game to life (which is primarily the role of the secretary). The main challenge for the president should be to bring money in for the game on their own, as an independent entity, rather than being solely reliant on the government or major sponsors. Crowd sourcing could be an interesting new avenue for generating financial resources for hockey in the country. If transparency of these resources is provided adequately, individual hockey lovers in Pakistan and private firms would be willing to pool in a significant sum of money for the game.
Hire the right coach
Pakistan’s hockey team needs foreign coaches, as the local coaches are not up to speed with the modern requirements of the game. The foreign coaches are needed not only to coach the national senior team, but also to develop the structure of the game at grass root levels. This approach has already been adopted by India, where Paul Van Ass is the coach of the national senior team and Roelant Oltmans is the performance director, overseeing the affairs of the game in India as a whole.
Pakistan has had two Dutch coaches in the past 10 years, but in my view, they were not given the time, freedom, and support to make an impact as required. Oltmans came in for the Olympics in 2004, held in Athens, while Michel Van Den Heuvel departed in a controversial fashion, just months before the London Olympics in 2012, after he had helped Pakistan lift the Asian Games title in 2010.
Let new administrative talent come in
A handful of former hockey Olympians should stop considering the game as their personal empire. They always seem to oppose the idea of foreign coaches and abstain from facilitating their time when they were hired. In addition, they are seen trying to grab lucrative positions in PHF (such as president, secretary, and national team coach) without making any positive difference when given a chance.
They should realise their responsibilities in order to make a rightful contribution towards the game. They should establish and run academies and train young talent even if it requires them to move away from the limelight.
Planning in the past has been done on an extremely short term basis which has been a wrong decision. The PHF were reluctant to invest in young talent as they were fearful that they would perform poorly in tournaments, therefore, they continued to give a prolonged stint to senior players, even in cases where they were not performing well.
This approach should be shunned and the individuals in charge should look to develop the game over a longer time period, which will allow the coaches (and other support staff) to focus on improving the skills and fitness levels of the players.
There is a constant fear that the status quo will prevail as there are rumours that former prime minister, Zafarullah Jamali, might return as the PHF president, and with no major tournament lined up for the green shirts in the near future, there will be no incentive to make any drastic changes on an emergency basis.
Will Pakistan be facing a similar scenario four years down the road when qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
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