Astroturf removal

The national sport of Pakistan, hockey has been in a free fall for decades

August 16, 2022

Years ago, when Imran Khan was a sportsman, he would harshly criticise the holding of horse and cattle shows at sports venues, especially Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. His scathing remarks towards politicians and officials for disrespecting sports were supported by thousands of patriotic Pakistanis, all of whom believed that the sports industry needed to be honed and developed through heavy investment and sincere efforts.

However, now that Khan finds himself in the political arena, he seems to have gone back on this stance after the Punjab government ripped off the Astroturf at the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore for his 13 August rally. This unsportsmanlike conduct has not sat well with sports lovers across the country. Former hokey Olympian Manzoorul Hasan has described this incident — one that PTI believes is a step towards haqiqi azadi — as a great loss to hockey. The venue is the biggest hockey stadium in Asia with a capacity of hosting 45,000 spectators. The turf itself was installed for Rs70 million and at such a critical economic juncture, it is less likely we can afford another. Regardless of its condition today, the decision to remove it amid such a politically tense landscape is symbolic of the disintegration of sports in Pakistan. It also sets a precedence that political motives are more important than all else. The rally could have easily been shifted to a better, much grander location.

Hockey, the national sport of Pakistan, has been in a free fall for decades. The national team struggles to compete even in major tournaments due to lack of travel and expense funds. This is indeed an injustice on those who put their lives at stake to play for the country, and for sports in general in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2022.

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