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Mo Farah, Najam Sethi and PHF’s foreign option

Pakistan’s hockey chiefs should seriously think about bringing in a master coach from Europe or Australia otherwise the national team’s
fortunes will continue to take a dip

Mo Farah, Najam Sethi and PHF’s foreign option
Najam Sethi… can he weather the storm?

A lot has happened in the world of sports in recent days both at home and abroad. Last week, a packed stadium in London witnessed one of the greatest feats achieved in the history of sports. It was a colossal happening as the great Mo Farah romped to his 10th consecutive global track distance title. The fact that he outran his younger rivals at the ripe old age of 34 once again underlined his status as the greatest long distance runner of all time.

The triumph has been hailed as his best ever and not without reasons. Farah was chased all the way to the finish line by Uganada’s Joshua Cheptegei making the 10’0000m race a perfect opening to the world championships in London.

Farah was embraced by his family and celebrated the victory with his kids.

“That was a special moment for me. I miss spending time with them. To have my family on the track is very special,” he said.

Farah left the stadium with a bandaged left leg but he announced that he will be ready for the forthcoming 5000m race of the championships in London.

“I’m hurt. I just had to be strong now. I’ve got a few cuts and bruises – but just recover and get ready for the 5K. I’ve got enough days,” he said.

Only an elite athlete of Farah’s class can exhibit that sort of confidence. And no fan of this great runner will doubt that Farah will return on the track and win the 5000m race as well.

Like Misbah-ul-Haq and more recently Roger Federer, Farah has proved that if you have the willpower than age doesn’t really matter. The London race was his fastest 10,000m for six years. It was a brutal test of stamina and Farah didn’t disappoint as he displayed his stunning ability to sprint at the end of a 25-lap journey.

“It was amazing. I had to get my head around it and I got a bit emotional at the start. I had to get in the zone,” Farah said after the race. “It wasn’t an easy race. I work on everything, and it’s been a long journey. What a way to end my career in London. It’s special.”

There is a little confession that I should make. When I began writing this piece it was supposed to be on the state of Pakistan cricket. But like the rest of the sporting world I couldn’t get Farah’s achievement out of my mind. Usain Bolt might be the biggest star in the world of athletics but to me Farah is the greatest athlete alive.

Mo Farah… is the greatest athlete alive

Mo Farah… is the greatest athlete alive

While the world of athletics remains in awe of Farah, Pakistan cricket is getting ready for a change of guard. On August 9, Najam Sethi is all set to take over as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

The very next day, Islamabad High Court will be hearing a petition filed against Sethi’s nomination as member of PCB’s Board of Governors by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

It feels like déjà vu.

When the last time Sethi took over as PCB chairman, he was forced to step down after a long drawn out legal battle.

My sources tell me that Sethi’s opponents are sharpening their knives again and are ready to bombard him with a series of court cases. Whether Sethi will be able to weather the storm remains to be seen.

While cricket gets ready for a new wave of uncertainty, Pakistan hockey is grappling with even more serious issues. Pakistan, which was once the undisputed number one team in international hockey has slipped to an all-time low 14th place in the FIH rankings. The latest slide comes after Pakistan’s disappointing seventh-place finish in the World Hockey League semifinals in London earlier this summer.

Pakistan’s hockey chief responded swiftly in the aftermath of the London debacle as they made sweeping changes in the national set-up by bringing in new coaches and selectors. The duo of Hanif Khan and Khawaja Junaid were axed as Farhat Khan was appointed as the new head coach of the national team. Shafqat Malik and Mohammad Sarwar were named as coaches. Hockey legend Hasan Sardar was brought in as the new chief selector.

Pakistan hockey team… continues to punch below its weight

Pakistan hockey team… continues to punch below its weight

Such changes were always likely. In the past too, our hockey chiefs have reacted to poor results with changes in the set-up. But more often than not, they have failed to ensure desired results. The Pakistan hockey team has seen its coaches and managers changed over the years but its performance has mostly dipped. Personally I have no problems with the appointment of men like Farhat Khan and Hasan Sardar. They are well-meaning individuals who have served the country well in the past as players and now intend to help put Pakistan hockey back on track as coaches and selectors. But you can’t bring change on the back of good intentions alone. Hockey has evolved into a power sport and is a different beast than it was in the days of Hasan and Farhat. That’s why to expect that they will succeed where Hanif and Junaid failed will be like expecting too much.

Personally, I believe that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) should think seriously about hiring a foreign coach. I know many of our former stalwarts will disagree but from where I see it, a master coach from perhaps Europe or Australia will have a better chance of raising the standard of Pakistan hockey. I remember that back in 2004, Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans helped Pakistan compete with the best teams of the world. I was there in Madrid when Pakistan featured in the Olympic Qualifers for the Athens Games back in 2004 and then in Lahore where they finished with a bronze medal in the Champions Trophy in the same year. On both occasions, the team showed signs of revival. There was this spark in the players. Their fitness levels were also up to the mark. On both occasions, Oltmans was Pakistan’s coach. Unfortunately, Pakistan decided against retaining him and since then it has mostly been downhill for the Pakistan team. I know that no foreign coach will come with a magic wand but what he will come with is the latest knowhow of the game and the ways and means to turn a bunch of talented players into a world class team. By the way, Oltmans is now India’s coach and under him the Indian team has gone several notches up. They are now much better than Pakistan. I think our hockey chiefs should certainly think about the foreign option.

Khalid Hussain

khalid hussain
The author is Editor Sports of The News. He can be reached at khalid.hussain@thenews.com.pk

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