For quite some time now, we have been hearing news about the financial woes of Pakistan Hockey Federation. The PHF has repeatedly complained about its empty coffers. Even the Prime Minister, the chief patron of the PHF ex officio, was approached.
The government contends, “The PHF drew the biggest funds over the last five years but the national team failed to give any substantial results.”
Auditor General is to carry out last five years audit of the PHF.
Things have gone to such an extent that Pakistan couldn’t field team in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. For the recent tours of Australia and Korea, the Punjab government stepped forward and extended financial help. Still, the PHF had to borrow money from other sources to make the tours.
Doubts loom over team’s participation in the all-important Olympic qualifiers starting in Belgium from June 20. This time, the PHF president Akhtar Rasool took the begging bowl to other sports federations of the country. Reportedly, he made an emotional speech during the meeting of the federations’ heads in a meeting at the Islamabad Sports Complex.
In an unprecedented move, the federations decided to divert their funds to help the cause of the national game.
Around the same time, a private hockey academy, based in Lahore and working without any help from the government, is embarking upon its fourth European tour on June 7.
The Dar Hockey Academy saga reads like a fictional story. It was the brainchild of Pakistan’s former hockey captain late Munir Dar, a member of Pakistan’s first Olympic gold medal winning team in 1960. Under his tutelage, Tanvir Dar, Munir’s brother, emerged as the most successful penalty corner striker at the 1968 Olympics and the 1971 World Cup — both won by Pakistan.
Munir’s son Taqueer continued the family success story — he was a member of the gold medal-winning side of the 1984 Olympics.
With Pakistan’s hockey fortunes continuously spiraling down, Munir decided to tackle the root cause — the grassroots. Under his patronage, Taqueer founded the Dar Hockey Academy in late 2006. Beginning with just seven players, it expanded quickly. The academy is unique. Anyone interested in playing hockey is welcomed. He is provided with hockey and shoes. The boys from outside Lahore are given admission in local schools and also provided accommodation. All the educational, board and lodging expenses are borne by the academy. Within three years of its birth, the academy began providing players to the national teams. The Pakistan under-18 team, winner of the 2009 junior Asia Cup, included four boys from this academy. There has been no looking back. Every national age group team since then has included Dar academy players.
In 2012, Khalid Bhatti became the first from the academy to win the coveted national ‘senior’ blazer. The boys from this academy have been gaining frequent national senior team selections. The silver medal won at the 2014 Champions Trophy was Pakistan’s finest achievement in many years.
In the all-important semi-final win against the traditional rivals India, the hero was Dar Academy’s Arslan Qadir who netted two goals, including the last gasp winner.
No training could be a substitute for competitive experience. The academy boys play for their school teams. Nobel Hockey Club Lahore, consisting entirely of academy boys, take part in the local and outstation club tournaments and have won a number of laurels; they are also the reigning champions of Lahore district club championships.
The academy’s boys are picked up by the departmental, city and provincial sides for national senior as well as the age-group tournaments.
All the semi-finalists in the last four national junior championships had boys from the Dar academy.
The academy sides have travelled abroad to gain experience. The first tour was to India in 2008 where the Dar HA participated in an all-India under-15 tournament in Amritsar and returned victorious.
The hockey powerhouse has long shifted from Asia to Europe and Oceania. The academy teams have so far made three tours to Europe: Holland, Germany and Belgium. During these trips, the Dar HA played matches not only against age-group sides but also against the top division club teams, having internationals. That paid off as evidenced by the number of the academy boys gaining selection for the various national sides.
All is set for yet another European tour. The Dar HA are leaving on June 7 for Holland and Belgium.
How has all this been possible?
Taqueer Dar, the founding president, answers, “Pakistan is among the world’s top countries as regards philanthropy. Pakistanis would donate generously for a just cause. Edhi foundation and the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital are prime examples of this.
“Realizing the sincerity as well as success of our efforts, the sponsors have come in good numbers; increasing all the time. We have merit as the sole criterion. In the team selected for the forthcoming European tour, almost all the boys belong to the lowest social strata: there is a boy whose father is a gardener and another is the son of a barber. “Currently, we have more than 15 major sponsors, including big business houses such as the Servis Industries, Pepsi, Shezan International, Diamond Paints and Guard Group of Industries.
“On the European tours, the hosts take care of our board and lodging. A couple of years back, the Dutch even sent around 1,200 hockey shoes, 600 high quality sticks and 24 goalkeeper kits. The Dar HA distributed the equipment not only among its own colts but also among many other hockey academies and clubs throughout Pakistan.”
The Dar Hockey Academy presents a role model not only for hockey but for all the sports: You don’t have to look towards the government all the time.
But to achieve this, the foremost requirements are honesty and competence at the top.