Former German hockey captain Chirstian Blunck was in Pakistan recently on a personal invitation from Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary Shahbaz Ahmed.
Born in Hamburg, the country‘s major hockey centre, hockey was in his blood. Mother Greta Blunck was a German hockey star of 1950s and 1960s.
The highlight of his long international career (1989-98) was the 1992 Olympics where Germany won the gold after 20 years. Blunck played a major role in that triumph — he was declared Player of the Tournament.
“Shahbaz is my old buddy since the playing days. He also played along with Tahir Zaman for my club Harvestehuder in the Bundesliga in 1996 and helped us win the title. That cemented the bond further. Now, Shahbaz has been entrusted with the task of resurrecting Pakistan hockey, and he desires my cooperation,” Blunck told ‘The News on Sunday’.
Like every hockey lover, the present state of Pakistan hockey saddens Blunck. “This country has given so much to hockey. Achievements are not confined to the ground. It was this country that gave World Cup and Champions Trophy to the hockey fraternity. I grew up envying Pakistanis’ skills. All this makes it very depressing to see them out of the World Cup and the Olympics — it’s unbelievable. Can you imagine a soccer World Cup without Brazil?” he said.
What he thinks are the reasons for the decline, he was asked. “I visited Pakistan as a member of the German team for the 1990 World Cup and a couple of editions of the Champions Trophy. In those days, a well-structured system was in place here. It seems everything has gone to dogs. The pool has greatly shrunk. Very little activity is seen at all the tiers: school, clubs, departments…
Talking of departments, in our times, we used to envy Pakistani players as they all had such cushy jobs. Now only a few departmental teams are left. Then, I have been told, most of the players in these departments don’t have permanent jobs, only contract employees. The incentives and financial security is no longer there for the hockey players.
“I suggest them to develop club structure as in Europe. As for the national side, there should be a short-term plan for the 2018 World Cup aiming at not only Pakistan’s qualification but also a good show there. A four-year, long-term plan for the 2020 Olympics needs to be mapped out as well.”
He also talked about what he can do to help Pakistan hockey. “It will be a sort of an ambassadorial role for Pakistan hockey in Europe. I will negotiate not only with the German hockey federation but also other associations of Europe to cooperate with Pakistan. This entails arranging tours of teams from Pakistan to these countries; not only the national side but also the junior and academy teams. I would also try to convince the European federations to send teams to Pakistan. It will be beneficial for Pakistan hockey if its players appear in the European leagues. The up and coming youngsters would get good exposure even by appearing in the second or third tier of the national leagues. The gain will be mutual. The flair of Asian hockey still attracts people in our part of the world,” said Blunck.
He lauded Shahbaz’s appointment as secretary PHF. “Right man for the right job. I am hopeful that he would bring Pakistan hockey out of the crisis. The biggest name in Pakistan hockey over the last few decades, he has the clout to bring international hockey in his country and also lure sponsors. He has brought a good team with him in Khawaja Junaid and Tahir Zaman as the head coaches of the national senior and junior team; both are well versed with the modern trends of coaching. It will also be useful to have foreign consultants with the Pakistan hockey for additional input — may be for a short duration. Remember Hans Jorritsima’s contribution to Pakistan winning two major events in 1994, the World Cup and the Champions Trophy,” he said.
Blunck firmly believes Pakistan has the capability to bounce back.
“Potential is still there but the last few years have been bad. I watched a few matches of the national junior championships at Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium. The natural skills and body movements we associate with the players from the sub-continent were very much on display. If properly worked upon, these boys can bring about a revival,” said the former German star.
Asked his views about the sport of hockey in general, he said: “It is very encouraging to see more and more strong national sides emerging on the international scene. In our times, it was mainly a four-horse race — Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Pakistan, with occasional intrusion by Spain. In recent years, we see so many other nations such as England, Belgium, Argentina, New Zealand and even Ireland and France. India is also showing signs of catching up. Hockey’s power base has expanded which is good for the game.
Hockey used to be a strictly amateur sport. Now players are getting paid in leagues around the world. The Dutch league is comparable to the European soccer leagues in structure, organisation and following. Top stars earn around 100,000 Euros a season. Hockey India League has surpassed even the Netherlands’ Hoofdklasse, at least in terms of the financial gains. It is amazing to see players getting 100,000 dollars for just five weeks’ work. It is very heartening to know that Shahbaz is planning a league in Pakistan on similar lines. With this plan Pakistan hockey is bound to bounce back,” Blunck said.