Can one imagine a cricket world cup without Australia? Or a football world cup without Brazil or Germany? It’s almost unthinkable. In the same way, it was once inconceivable to imagine a hockey world cup without Pakistan. And yet, this was exactly what happened in the 2014 world cup. After grabbing the wooden spoon by finishing last at the 2010 edition, hockey fans in Pakistan might’ve thought this is it, this is the lowest we could stoop to, time for some radical measures now and maybe we can get back to where we once used to be. But how wrong they were…
Eight months later, Pakistan defeated Malaysia to win gold at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, but anyone who followed the game closely, knew nothing had really changed from the ignominy of Delhi 2010. Pakistan qualified for the 2012 Olympics courtesy the Asian Games win, but they were still scraping the barrel in the months preceding the London event. And as expected, a combination of poor planning and tired legs meant that the Greenshirts ended their Olympics campaign at the 7th spot.
August 30 2013 officially sounded the death knell of hockey in Pakistan. As if finishing last in 2010 wasn’t enough, Pakistan, who had initiated the idea of a World Cup failed to qualify for the 2014 edition. Did anyone in the top administration care? The circus was out again, déjà vu. Nothing changed. A couple of more months elapsed and Pakistan faced further shame, this time paying the price for a split in the Pakistan Olympic Association and being unable to send a team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This was the first such instance as well.
The side’s failure to qualify for the Olympics 2016 for the first time marked a calamitous new low. It is lamentable that a country which won Olympic gold thrice, World Cup four times, Asia Cup thrice, Asian Games gold record eight times, Asian Champions Trophy gold twice, FIH Champions Trophy gold thrice and remained unbeatable at regional level for many years is now a lowly team.
The decline of Pakistan hockey from the glory days of old is not a sudden calamity, it has been gradual and observable – the last time Pakistan won a major trophy was in the early 90s. The hockey federation is cash-strapped; unable to offer proper incentives to players, afford quality equipment, hire competent staff, or even fund airfare to regional commotions. Just like other sport federations, the senior officials of the PHF treat foreign tournament as fully-paid holidays, with staff and administrative heads joining the tour for sightseeing. This coupled with last minute employment shakeups and nepotistic appointments make the PHF a habitat of institutionalized corruption.
Pakistan’s brilliant track record in international hockey since independence has owed much to the dynamic administrative skills of individuals like Air Marshal Nur Khan. If one analyses carefully the periods of poor performance in Pakistan hockey they are invariably linked with poor management. At present there is much chaos and lack of vision in the PHF, and the chances the national team will sparkle in forthcoming events seem remote. Presently our national sport has been besieged with poor performance, rifts, petty politics, polarity, and has consequently been overshadowed by cricket. There are serious problems with the national sport of the country. Today Pakistan hockey is at the crossroads.
Due to country’s obsession with cricket these days, Pakistan hockey has been relegated to the background due to the Pakistan government’s indifferent attitude towards the national sport. On the other hand, our neighbour India in recent years has taken a giant leap in promoting its sports, injecting millions of dollars into cricket, hockey, badminton, tennis, football and kabaddi. They have started staging international leagues attracting world-class players. All this is helping India tremendously to elevate itself in the international sports arena. Unfortunately, the situation in Pakistan is exactly the opposite as the federal government lacks the required level of interest to involve the nation in sporting activities.
Hockey as a national sport has become a game of which the current cricket-crazy generation has very little knowledge of or interest in. In fact, most young Pakistanis today know the names of European club football players more than they do of the current Pakistani hockey players. A sport in which so much pride and passion was once invested and which became the honoured expression of a resilient nation, has sadly been allowed to just wither away.
Hockey needs Pakistan as much as the country needs the game. It is part of its identity. In a recent interview, Australia’s most decorated and one of the best players of this era, Jamie Dwyer said: “When India and Pakistan are good there is nothing better for the game. The game becomes so exciting because the amount of following in those countries is huge. I want hockey in those countries to do really well.”
What will it take to finally address the collapse of the giants? How long will we keep beating the astroturf for our demise? Even it has turned blue now.