The year is 1978 and there is no team in the hockey world that can compete with Pakistan’s breath-taking firepower. And the man at the helm of the green brigade is Islahuddin Siddiqui.
“Those were the days,” Islah told ‘The News on Sunday’ in an interview. “During that time we were so sure of ourselves that even a final of a major tournament against a top challenger wouldn’t really bother us,” added Islah, who captained a Pakistan team that ran roughshod over its rivals back in the seventies.
But that was then.
Fast forward it to 2015 and it seems that Pakistan hockey is dead and buried.
Pakistan failed to make the cut for World Cup 2014 and more recently were even unable to qualify for Olympic Games 2016 to be held in Rio de Janeiro. Islah, who picked the squad for the Olympic Qualifiers as Pakistan’s chief selector, decided to resign after this latest disaster which happened in the Belgian city of Antwerp earlier this summer. The Antwerp debacle has reignited the debate about Pakistan hockey and whether there is any hope left for the country’s national sport. Many fear that it’s game over for Pakistan hockey.
But Islah doesn’t agree.
“Pessimism won’t help Pakistan hockey,” he said. “We can talk about hockey being finished and that all hope is lost but that would lead us to nowhere,” he added.
Islah is of the view that all of Pakistan’s stake-holders should stop wasting time on crying over spilt milk.
“A lot is being said about how pitiful is the state of our hockey and with due reason. But, personally I believe that instead of emphasising on that we should instead of asking questions as to how we can put our hockey back on track,” he said.
“The first thing we should do it to make a solid domestic structure.
“The districts should be made independent and they should have their own tournaments and training facilities. They should have under-14 and under-17 events on a regular basis.
“That will broaden the pool of our players. Our focus should be on youth because Pakistan’s well of talent is running dry. We need to invest a lot in training and grooming of juniors.”
Islah believes that Pakistan’s hockey chiefs will have to think long-term.
“There will be no short-term steps. We need long-term plans because that’s the only way we can take our hockey out of the crisis.”
What Islah is talking about is nothing new. Such arguments have been given time and again in the past but nothing concrete has happened in the real sense of the world. Hockey it seems is either dead or is breathing its last.
But Islah remains an optimist.
“Hockey will never die in Pakistan because it has strong roots in our country. It has gone down because of our own mistakes. It can rise again but for that we will need to work hard. It is a sum total of our collective mistakes during the last three decades that we are lagging behind teams against whom we would win at will in the past.
“We will have to let bygones be bygones. We will have to prepare a comprehensive plan that should have the support of all the stakeholders. The federation should be strong with good financial assets so that it doesn’t have to rely on government funding. We really need the support of the corporate sector. We need people who command respect in the corporate sector, people who can bring in private sponsorship for Pakistan hockey. We need an advisory board which can help the federation in becoming more financially viable and administratively professional.”
Islah is of the view that Pakistan can climb its way back on the top of the world hockey pyramid but that will take a lot of careful planning, hard work and many years.
He suggests that Pakistan should take one step at a time in its bid to revive the country’s lost glory.
“We have to make a comeback on the international circuit. Our first target should be the Asian Games. We have three years before its next edition. If we can really work hard and if the team is in the right hands, we can win the title and claim a direct berth for the World Cup. We will need four to five years to make a solid team that can make its presence felt at the world level.
“We will need to go step by step. We have to first reestablish ourselves as the best team in Asia. To be one of the best in the world is a target that we can think about later.
“There should be a proper talent hunt. We need to have scouts who should go to all the provinces and look for talented youngsters in all nook and corners of the country.
“We also need to strengthen our club hockey. We need more quality players who can be groomed into world class players.”
There has been criticism against former players like Islah as their critics claim that the ex-Olympians have done more harm than good to the game because of their one-sided criticism against the people running Pakistan’s hockey affairs.
“I think all of us former Olympians should come forward and do their bit. They can act as advisors for the PHF. They can be handed their respective districts. People who can actually do something will be proven while others will be exposed.”