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Can our hockey bounce back?

Pakistan’s hockey community is hoping that the incoming PHF President Khalid Khokhar will succeed where men like Qasim Zia and Akhtar Rasool failed

Can our hockey bounce back?
Brig Khalid Sajjad Khokhar

It was difficult to miss the sycophantic tone of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary Rana Mujahid in a statement issued last week about the nomination of Brigadier Khalid Sajjad Khokhar as the new PHF president.

Rana minced no words when he talked about Khokhar’s “celebrated hockey career” and concluded that his appointment as PHF president was a “ray of hope” for Pakistan hockey.

Over the years, I have seen many PHF chiefs falling in the trap of such servile behaviour. Men like Qasim Zia and Akhtar Rasool – two of Khokhar’s most recent predecessors – were among them. Qasim Zia’s stint as PHF president was ruined by Asif Bajwa, the former Olympian who was then serving as the PHF secretary. Though Akhtar Rasool managed to dig his own grave but Rana Mujahid was always there, standing in servitude and helped him dig a bigger, deeper hole where Pakistan hockey currently lays buried.

I know Khokhar won’t fall for this trap. He has been around for far too long and is well aware of the fact that it is top PHF officials like Rana, who are directly responsible for the fall of Pakistan hockey. And I hope that I’m not wrong because if Khokhar is somehow lured to follow in the footsteps of Qasim and Akhtar then Pakistan hockey is doomed. There won’t be any ray of hope for a game that was once the national pastime of Pakistan and is still the country’s national sport.

Khokhar must be fully aware that he hasn’t been nominated as PHF president by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif because of his “celebrated hockey career”. There is no doubt that he was once a good hockey player and captained the Pakistan Army team during his younger days. But his hockey exploits pale when you compare them with the likes of Akhtar and Qasim, both counted among the legends of Pakistan hockey. If a celebrated hockey career were the only yardstick then the premier could have chosen any former Olympian from a long list of ex-stalwarts, who would happily assume the responsibility of PHF president if given a chance.

Khokhar’s hockey background must have certainly helped his cause but it’s his experience as an administrator and a hard task master which must have convinced the higher authorities to opt for him ahead of many other contenders for the coveted post of PHF president.

There shouldn’t be any doubt in his mind that putting Pakistan hockey back on track is a gigantic task, to say the least. When Khokhar was an active hockey player, things were completely different for Pakistan. The national team was by far the most successful side in world hockey. That was a time when Pakistan would ride roughshod over its rivals, winning major titles with an enviable ease.

But times have really changed.

Today, Pakistan are out of the world hockey elite after their failure to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Holland and more recently next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Today, the PHF which was once counted among the richest sports bodies in the country has to literally beg for money to fulfill the national team’s international commitments. Today, the federation is notorious because of the controversial track record of some of its officials, both past and present. Today, there are calls from all quarters to carry out a transparent audit of the PHF as there is widespread suspicion that some top officials are guilty of corruption.

It won’t be an overstatement to suggest that the PHF needs an operation clean-up. Once the new set-up takes over its first task should be to flush out the various vested-interest elements in the federation. I know that it’s easier said than done but that’s one step which Khokhar and his team, once he forms one, will have to take for the future of Pakistan hockey. That’s because till the time all those parasites are there, it is highly unlikely that the PHF will be able to achieve any of the important targets like the promotion of Pakistan hockey and transforming our under-achieving team into a world class side.

Once the parasites are out of the picture, the real work towards the betterment of Pakistan hockey can begin. Khokhar can start by summoning a national hockey conference in which all stake-holders get a chance to voice their opinions about what can be done to revive our hockey. The idea should be to form a comprehensive blue-print that can lead us to a better tomorrow for our hockey. Once that’s achieve, PHF can start implementing it with the support of both the public and private sectors.

This year has been nothing short of an annus horribilis for Pakistan hockey and so was 2014 and some of the preceding years. This will have to change. Pakistan didn’t qualify for the last World Cup and they are now out of next year’s Olympic Games as well. If things continue in that direction then there will be no hope for Pakistan hockey. Khokhar and his team should be fully aware that their tenure could be the last chance for our hockey to bounce back. Each and every step they take starting next week should be aimed at bringing a positive change. It would be a national service if they manage to do that and I really hope that they won’t disappoint because Pakistan hockey might not be able to survive yet another setback.

Khalid Hussain

khalid hussain
The author is Editor Sports of The News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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