The million-dollar question for Pakistan’s hockey chiefs at the moment is how to lift the national sport out of its current misery. Ask hockey legend Shahbaz Ahmed, currently serving as secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), and he will tell you that it’s not as tough as it sounds. In fact, Shahbaz is of the view that the task of reviving Pakistan hockey is actually very simple. He believes that it is no rocket science and if anyone wants to bring the national sport back on track, he or she should instigate a small idea among aspirants, who want to play for Pakistan.
“The only thing which will lure our youngsters to play hockey with their heart and soul is that that we make them believe that if they play good hockey they will at least land a job in some department,” Shahbaz told The News on Sunday. “Because youngsters know that every player will not make it to the top and there should be something for them, a job, if they fail to make the cut for the national side.
“Ascertaining Pakistan hockey’s downfall is simple. There is no financial security for players who seek their careers in hockey. Who will want to invest their youth for an insecure future! Moreover, parents wouldn’t let their children play hockey for a career,” he added.
Shahbaz said that the idea of establishing 18 academies across Pakistan by the PHF setup led by Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa was destined to fall apart. “There are not enough funds to sustain academies. The only thing we need to do is to give our youngsters a sense of financial security. I believe that will do everything by itself and we will have abundant young talented players playing competitive hockey,” he added.
Pakistan literally ruled the world of hockey from 1960 onwards. It was PHF chief Air Marshal Nur Khan who floated the idea of hockey’s own World Cup. The first-ever event was held in 1971, which Pakistan won. Pakistan failed to qualify for World Cup 2014, four-time world champions Pakistan still hold the record of winning the most number of World Cup titles.
Shahbaz was Pakistan hockey team captain when the Green-shirts last bathed in World Cup glory in 1994. Since then, Pakistan have been declining and have now even failed to qualify for World Cup and Olympics.
In World Cup 1986, the Green-shirts performed very poorly, getting the second last spot. An inquiry was conducted in the aftermath of the debacle. During the inquiry, players complained that the remuneration they receive was not even half of what the national cricketers made. Moreover, very few companies were interested in sponsoring the Pakistan hockey team.
PHF raised the playing fee and also encouraged departments and private companies to invest in hockey. The situation improved which eventually led to Pakistan’s comeback. The Green-shirts made it to the final of World Cup 1990 and won the title in 1994.
“Our immediate target is to perform well in Olympics and World Cup qualifiers so as to make a comeback in the two big events. But the problem will remain unless we do something for a secure future of our young hockey players,” Shahbaz said.
He said that he was hopeful that PHF would be able to do something in this regard. He said the government should extend a helping hand to revive the national sport.