Despite several years of ignominy, one cannot simply write-off Pakistan from the world of hockey. Pakistan holds the most number of World Cup titles, a record which is not going to be broken anytime soon. But if widespread fears are to be believed, there are some powerful international forces trying to do just that — write off Pakistan from international hockey.
Pakistan’s Air Marshal Nur Khan gave the idea of a hockey World Cup.
The first edition was to be held in October 1971 in Pakistan. But tumultuous relations with neighbouring India, which eventually turned into a war, didn’t let it happen.
Although Pakistan won their last World Cup title in 1994, the Green-shirts are still the most successful nation in the history of the event having won four titles and appeared in six finals.
Pakistan have been shown the door by Malaysian Hockey Federation. It did not invite them for Azlan Shah Cup, which commences on April 27 in Ipoh.
Pakistan were also kept away from Junior Hockey World Cup, which was held in India in December last year. The organisers blamed Pakistan for not applying for visas of players on time. However, PHF has clarified that visa applications were submitted in time.
There has been a great resentment in Pakistan hockey circles against International Hockey Federation (FIH), which is led by former Hockey India chief Narinder Batra.
Batra was HI chief when Pakistan and India hockey relations fell to a new low during Champions Trophy 2014 held in Bhubaneswar. Pakistan players allegedly made some obscene gestures towards the crowd following their semi-final victory against the hosts. However, the players were only warned by Tournament Director after Pakistan camp and referees told him that the Pakistan players faced an abusive crowd throughout the match. But HI failed to digest the Tournament Director’s verdict and threatened not to host any FIH event in future if the matter was not decided according to its wishes.
FIH crumbled under pressure of the cash-rich HI and suspended two Pakistan players hours before the final against a strong German side, which eventually won the title. The then coach Shahnaz Sheikh on his return to Pakistan said India deprived Pakistan of Champions Trophy title by forcing FIH to ban Pakistan players.
The demons of that Champions Trophy events reemerged when PHF secretary Shahbaz Ahmad Sr cried foul over Pakistan’s exclusion from Junior World Cup on the pretext of late submission of visa applications.
“Many people in the hockey circles here in Pakistan believe that after HI chief Narider Batra became FIH President, Pakistan has been sidelined from international hockey arena and I also hold the same view,” Shahnaz says.
But the former Olympian is of the view that PHF should improve its relations with other federations around the world. “Pakistan has a splendid history in the game of hockey and no one can push Pakistan to the wall. There are our well wishers as well around the globe and we need to reach out to them,” he said. The former coach said he feels the Green-shirts have been improving as they defeated eighth ranked New Zealand in a five-match series by 2-1 at its backyard recently.
However, he said that Sultan Azlan Shah Cup would have been an ideal event for Pakistan to prepare for World Cup qualifying round to be held in London in June this year and that the federation should have been able to send its team for the event.
PHF Secretary says if the Green-shirts perform well in international tournaments, no one can stop them. Shahbaz claims he is devoting all his energies to lift the game of the players and establish an infrastructure that could make it happen.
Shahbaz criticises the past PHF setups for rendering only lip service and doing little for the national sport. “We have to start almost everything from scratch. So, drawing parallels with nations who have continuously been investing in the sport is not sensible.
“We have no international standing and we are nowhere near top international hockey-playing nations. They have established standards and have lifted their infrastructure. We have been left behind by a huge margin,” he says.
Shahbaz is also critical of national players for giving priority to substandard leagues to national duty. “People around the world loved to see the way we played hockey. The skills, wrist work and the grip on the ball were matchless. I still see the same talent in our current players. But they lack in fitness, confidence and a will to strive to do better. There is also lack of nationalism. We used to play hockey with only one aim and that was to see Pakistan at the front in every tournament.”
Shahbaz says he is now looking inward and endeavouring to lift hockey from grassroots level.
“Players need to change their mindset and put up a motivated show. Bringing Pakistan hockey back on track will take time. We have pinned our hopes on those playing in under-16 and under-18 circuit for the revival of the national sport,” he says.