Pakistan have a rich history in volleyball. They won a bronze medal in the 1962 Asian Games. The Green-shirts’ top performance in the Asian Championship came in the 1989 edition when they finished fourth. However, they failed to keep intact their strength and have often finished at the seventh or the eighth spot or even lower since then.
Despite great popularity of cricket in Pakistan, one can see this sport being played by a sizeable population in the cities as well as in the rural areas, particularly Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The financial issue has obstructed Pakistan’s growth in the discipline over the years although Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) has helped Pakistan Volleyball Federation (PVF) substantially at certain times.
I remember the federal government gave a healthy special grant to the PVF in 2007-2008, which resulted in Pakistan winning bronze medal, their maiden, in the 26 years history of the Asian Junior Championship.
But lack of constant support from the government has resulted in inconsistent performance of Pakistan at the international level.
Sponsors don’t seem interested in the sport, which is a big hurdle in the way of its promotion.
Strawberry Sports Management, the first sports management company of Pakistan, has decided to hold a volleyball league after its chief was convinced by the crowd-pulling magic of the discipline.
A pro league, no doubt, is considered the main tool in modern era behind the success of any game. It provides opportunities to the players to earn money and keep their fitness level which enables them to perform effectively when they are on national duty.
A pro league lures young talent which helps the authorities form a solid back-up pool. So I must say that the PVF should make a serious effort to hold a pro league.
And the other issue which has prevented the constant growth of Pakistan team in international circuit is the lack of standard coaching. It has been seen that the local coaches have not been so effective whenever they are assigned the task to prepare the lot for any international event.
Foreign coaches have always been helpful in raising the standard of the team. But they are not hired for a long period due to financial constraints.
Recently Pakistan hired the services of Iran’s coach Hamid Movahidi who has the experience of working with Iran’s national team which is the seventh side in the world.
With only a month of his coaching, in Islamabad, the team showed enormous resolve in the Islamic Games in Baku and the World Championship qualifiers in Kyrgyzstan.
Pakistan’s superb performance in the match against strong Turkey in the Islamic Games which the latter ultimately won 3-2 is a testimony to the fact that the Iranian coach knows how to get the best out of his brigade.
In Kyrgyzstan Pakistan narrowly missed a spot in the final round of the 2018 World Championship Qualifiers. After beating Kyrgyzstan 3-2 in their opener the Green-shirts were deprived of a sure win by the referee against Kazakhstan as the latter sealed a 3-2 win after a fiery contest.
Hamid lambasted the refereeing standard, saying they were fit only for school-level matches. But the issue is that the Iranian has been hired for just six months. If his contract is not extended the team’s growth will stop once again. It was after eight long years that Pakistan hired a foreign coach.
The last one was Ali Reza Moameri, also an Iranian, who served the country in 2007-08. He guided Pakistan’s junior side to a bronze medal in the Asian Junior Championship — the first ever.
The government should extend constant help to the PVF so that a foreign coach could be kept for a long period. If a foreign coach is hired for five years, it will not only build a solid Pakistan team but will also prepare a good pool of coaches who will then transfer their knowledge which they will get by working with the foreign coach to the players at different levels.
Movahidi has changed the pattern of Pakistan team and the move has started working. Soon after joining Pakistan team in early April, he told me that he was working on the basics of Pakistani players and the playing system. He has done that and brought the team towards modern volleyball. But he will need some more time to get the best out of his side. It would be interesting to see how his team performs in the Asian Championship, slated to be held in Indonesia from July 24 to August 1.
The camp will begin from June 5 in Islamabad. But before the competitions Pakistan will need a foreign tour. Pakistan were unlucky to miss the tour of Iran just before the Islamic Games due to financial constraints.
Pakistan can turn out to be a formidable side if the state takes volleyball under its patronage. A decade ago Iran was not a better side than Pakistan but because of special attention to the sport Iran became one of the world’s leading volleyball nations. Its club structure is among the best in the world. In the Islamic Games its second string kept thrashing every opposition.