Pakistan hockey is at its lowest ebb. The steady decline over the last few years culminated in the record four-time winners’ failure to even qualify for the World Cup.
During all this time, one Pakistani on the hockey field delivered something to cheer about. Haider Rasool is currently the only umpire from Pakistan and one of four Asians in the FIH’s World Development Panel.
His last major assignment was the junior hockey World Cup in India, last December. Next, he will be blowing the whistle at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, this summer.
Before taking up umpiring, Haider was a hockey player with no mean credentials. As a goalkeeper, he played for Lahore and the Allied Bank, and was good enough to be called for the national camps several times from 1995-2000, including those for the World Cup (1998) and four editions of the Champions Trophy.
“During my playing days, I was always keen to fully comprehend the hockey rules. Off the field, I used to talk a lot with Faiz Mohammad Faizi, one of Pakistan’s most respected international umpires,” he tells ‘The News on Sunday’ in an interview.
“Even on the field, during the course of matches, I often engaged the umpires in a little argument if not satisfied with their decisions. Standing in the goal, you get a good view of what is happening further ahead.”
Still, he hadn’t given any thought to taking up the whistle. “It was Pakistan’s former hockey great Khawaja Junaid, my Allied Bank captain, who suggested, ‘Haider, I can see a good umpire in you’,” he says.
“In 2001, along the sidelines of a domestic tournament in Lahore, an umpiring seminar was being conducted by a person no less than Peter Von Roth, the chairman of the FIH umpiring committee. I participated in the seminar while playing in the tournament as well. I attended the lectures, participated in the discussions and also did the practical work in the field. There, I realised that I had the potential and, more importantly, the desire to be an umpire. I began to blow whistle on the domestic circuit in 2002. Next year, I attended an umpiring seminar conducted by the Asian Hockey Federation in the Malaysian city of Ipoh.”
From then onwards, it was a continuous upward journey for him.
The first time he umpired in a tournament outside Pakistan was at the 2nd edition of the Indian Premier League in 2004.
He was declared “International Umpire” in 2005 by the FIH.
After umpiring at quite a few regional qualifiers and invitational tournaments, Haider was promoted to the ‘Promising Umpires’ list of the FIH in February 2008.
“This enabled me to stand, among others, in continental tournaments like the Pan Am Championships (2008) and the Asian Games (2010) as well as other high-profile events such as the Junior World Cup (2009) and the Commonwealth Games (2010),” he says.
His consistent high quality performances got him excellent evaluations, and Haider became a ‘Grade 1’ international umpire in December 2010.
“After this, my biggest ever challenge arrived; I was nominated for the Champions Trophy in 2011. All the top teams of the world were present, with matches televised globally,” he says.
He managed to pass the big test as he soon received the great news of selection among the list of reserve umpires for the 2012 Olympics. “That was incredible; I had never thought of such an honour so early,” he says.
Haider continued to impress in important tournaments, and in October 2013 got yet another promotion. He is now in the ‘World Development Panel’.
“We are eight umpires in the World Development Panel, just one notch below the World Panel (the top most tier), which presently includes 12. Quite a few of those in the World Panel are close to 47, the age of retirement for the international umpires. I have still 10 years to go, and depending on my performance in the coming international tournaments, I stand a very good chance to make it to the highest echelon, and also to the 2016 Olympics as I am part of the ‘Road to Rio’ programme of the FIH,” he proudly mentions.
Umpiring at the top level is physically very demanding; it involves a lot of running, turning and moving around. Haider keeps himself fit by regular work in the gymnasium and going for long runs, five times a week.
A few years back when Pakistan cricket was tainted by scandals, Aleem Dar was a source of pride for the country’s cricket lovers. Today, when Pakistan hockey’s on-field performance has hit the rock bottom, an umpire’s achievements provide some solace.
TAILPIECE: The love of Haider’s love in life is also hockey. Wife Uzma played the sport, also in the goal. She achieved something her husband couldn’t — winning the national cap; made 28 international appearances.
After taking the pads off, Uzma, like Haider, didn’t leave the arena. She became a technical official in 2005 and within a few years was sitting on the jury bench in international tournaments.
Her last assignment was the 2013 Asian Hockey Federation’s Challenge Cup in Thailand where she officiated in both the men’s and women’s games.
Uzma is the only woman from Pakistan in the FIH’s list of technical officials.