A cloud of gloom hangs over Pakistan hockey as it reached yet another low, and for the first time since the country’s creation, the Olympics will not feature the Greenshirts. The failure to qualify comes just two years after Pakistan’s failure to reach the World Cup — also a first.
And so July 3, 2015 will go down along with August 30, 2013 in the annals of history as the darkest days in the country’s national sport, but this has been a long time coming.
The men that took to the turf in Antwerp, Belgium may have been wearing the same green donned by those that won four World Cups and three Olympic golds, but that is where the similarities of their deeds end.
Players and management alike were confident of qualifying for the Olympics before the tournament started, but a quarter-final loss against Great Britain meant direct qualification was out of the question as the Greenshirts needed to finish in the top three to qualify.
They then faced Ireland in a bid to finish fifth. However, a 1-0 defeat against a team that they had never lost to before in their last 11 matches took away the last remnants of hope.
The Greenshirts may have won silver medals in last year’s Asian Games and Champions Trophy but this failure dents all the goodwill the team had mustered with those results.
With a revolving door policy at the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), it seems that the entire hockey fraternity is to blame for the humiliating defeat. Almost every prominent hockey player has been involved in the affairs of the sport during the last two decades but none have succeeded in bringing back Pakistan’s heydays from 1960 to 1994.
Incumbent head coach Shahnaz Sheikh had guided the team to two silver medals in the past year despite having few of the facilities and resources at his disposal that any self-respecting hockey team worth its salt deserves. The players too have played and behaved remarkably well considering that they haven’t been paid for three years now.
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But rather than learning from the past, the government and the hockey federation continue to blunder along in the same way. The officials seem to be looking out only for themselves while the government has failed to take the sport seriously.
Current PHF President Akhtar Rashool and secretary Rana Mujahid were soaking in the Belgium summer but both have done little, if anything, to deserve their respective posts. What makes the whole situation even more farcical is that three coaches were not sent with the team due to a lack of funds but Rasool and Mujahid — who had no business travelling with the team — went along.
The PHF management has also failed to run the federation properly, focusing more on asking the government for funds than motivating the underpaid players or bringing in finances.
There are no two ways about it — the national sport is in shambles. But while those in charge continue to be as embarrassingly clueless and inept as ever, the government has done the sport no favours. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cancelled as many as six meetings with hockey players and officials in the past 18 months but the sport’s patron-in-chief was promptly at hand to form a committee when the players — who weren’t even given a daily allowance for the tournament — failed to perform.
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The committee’s investigation will invariably lead it to the very doorsteps where it was formed but the PM will certainly not take any action against himself, nor will the PHF’s top officials punish themselves. The committee therefore is an exercise in futility — seemingly like much in Pakistan hockey these days.
For around 25 years we were top of the world; the best hockey had to offer. Now we can’t even qualify for the sport’s biggest tournaments. Something needs to give and something needs to give soon if Pakistan are to have better fortunes at the 2018 World Cup and 2022 Olympics; the top officials need to have a good hard look in the mirror if hockey is to reflect the glories of the past.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2015.
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