Pakistan hockey is going through a dark phase. The national team failed to qualify for the last World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016). But lately, there have been a couple of encouraging developments. Though Pakistan didn’t put up a good show at the Hockey World League semifinal round but finishing seventh means they stand a good chance to appear in the next year’s World Cup.
Still, we have to wait for the completion of the continental championships over the next few months to be fully assured of the qualification.
Pakistan is also among the nine countries selected for the FIH’s high-profile Hockey Pro League to be launched in 2019.
Since 1994, the national team has failed to climb the podium at Olympics as well as World Cups.
The national team’s poor performance in the international arena for a long time has had many ramifications, including the decreased interest of the public and consequently sponsors.
Hockey has long ceased to be a mass participation sport in this country with nurseries fast eroding. Many believe the grassroots is the area needing utmost attention.
In this gloomy scenario, Dar Hockey Academy is seen by many as a ray of hope. A dream of legendary late Munir Dar, a member of Pakistan’s first Olympic gold medal winning side of 1960, the Dar Hockey Academy was founded by Munir’s son Tauqeer Dar, himself an Olympic gold medallist (1984).
Beginning with just seven players in late 2006, the Dar HA quickly established itself as the conveyor belt of talent for the national teams.
Within three years of its inception, the academy began providing players to the national teams.
Pakistan’s victorious under-18 team of the 2009 junior Asia Cup included four academy boys. There has been no looking back since then.
Every national age group team since then has included Dar academy players. In 2012, Khalid Bhatti became the first pure academy product to win the coveted national ‘senior’ blazer.
Since 2013, Dar HA boys have gained selection in almost all the national senior sides as well.
Dar HA is based in Lahore but talented players from other areas are also picked up by the academy. The boys from outside Lahore are enrolled in local schools and get accommodation. Education, board and lodging expenses are borne by the Dar HA.
The training is imparted at the synthetic turf of Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium, by a team of coaches currently led by the 1994 World Cup winner Danish Kaleem. But no training could be a substitute for tough competitions.
The academy boys play for their school teams. Nobel Hockey Club in Lahore, consisting entirely of academy boys, figure in the local and outstation club tournaments and have won a number of events.
Academy’s boys are picked up by the departmental, city and provincial sides for national senior as well as age group tournaments.
All the semi-finalists in the last six national junior championships had boys from the Dar HA.
The academy sides have also made a number of overseas training tours. Dar HA visited India in 2008 where they emerged victorious in an All India under-15 tournament in Amritsar.
Since then they have travelled to the Netherlands four times, Germany thrice, Belgium twice and Malaysia once.
The expenses are met mainly through private sponsors, including multi-nationals. The boys’ achievements mean the patronage is increasing all the time.
Pakistani expats have also joined. The hosts of the academy in Holland have been greatly impressed by the boys’ talent and the academy’s services to the cause of Pakistan hockey.
In December 2012, ‘Flying Dutch Veterans’, a team including many past Dutch Olympians visited Pakistan on a special invitation from the Dar academy.
They sent a container to Pakistan carrying around 1,200 hockey shoes, 600 high quality sticks and 24 goalkeeper kits.
The Dar HA not only distributed the equipment among its own colts but many other hockey academies and clubs were among the recipients.
The beneficiaries were not only from Punjab. The towns in other provinces of Pakistan also had a share in the gifts.
Now, the academy is all set for their fifth visit to the Netherlands, leaving on August 15.
The team will be based at the MOP club at Vught. In fact, Vught has been Dar Hockey Academy’s home away from home. This small town near Eindhoven, where almost everyone, young or old, appears to play hockey on a regular basis, has hosted the visitors from Pakistan on all the four previous sojourns to Holland.
Five of the 10 matches will be played at “home” in Vught. The remaining fixtures are scheduled at various places of this beautiful country.
Pakistani ambassador to the Netherlands, Iffat Imran Gardezi, has graciously accepted the invitation to watch the games at The Hague and Amstelveen.
The boys will be encountering strong opposition in all the matches. Netherlands’ domestic structure is acknowledged as the best organised and most competitive in the world. The Dar HA will mostly face outfits comprising the members of the first team and the best emerging players.
Four matches are scheduled against teams from Hoofdklasse, the top tier of the Dutch league. Dragons, one of Belgium’s top clubs, will be making a special visit to Holland to play the Dar HA.
Incidentally, the 2017 Euro Hockey Nations Championship is being held in Amsterdam’s Wagener stadium during the Dar HA’s stay in the Netherlands. The colts will be watching a couple of its matches.
Hence, it will be a great learning experience for the budding hockey talent from Pakistan.