Once regarded as Pakistan’s favourite pastime, hockey has declined to a level where it is now counted among second-tier sports in the country. It has been a sad decline for Pakistan hockey. From dizzying heights of the past when the national team rode roughshod over its rivals and won major international titles almost at will, the fortunes of Pakistan hockey have touched rock bottom.
The national team even failed to qualify for the last edition of the World Cup in Holland and also the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Islahuddin Siddiqui, hoc-key’s superstar of yesteryear, has suggested ways to take his country’s national team from “the worst to the first.”
In an interview with The News on Sunday, Islah suggests a three-point formula to regain the lost glory within a short period.
The captain of Pakistan’s 1978 World Cup-winning team, who is currently in the US, said during an interview by telephone from San Francisco that Pakistan needs to:
1. Improve fitness level of all of its players.
2. Reorganise domestic hockey.
3. Organise long-duration training camps at hilly stations.
“If we do that, Pakistan will soon be able to find the winning touch,” said the former Olympian.
Islah lamented the fact that Pakistan were currently ranked 11th in the world. “It means from the first we are now the worst,” he added.
Pakistan won the Olympic title for the first time in Rome in 1960. They regained the title in 1968 at Mexico City Olympic Games.
They next won the Olympic gold at Los Angles Games in 1984.
Pakistan also won four World Cup tournaments: first in Braselton, Spain, in 1971; seven years later in Buenos Aires, Argentina; in 1982, in Bombay (now Mumbai); and in 1994, in Sydney, beating the Netherlands in the penalty shootout 4-3. Islah had the unique honour of leading Pakistan to three major victories in a row in one year (1978): World Cup in Argentina, Champions Trophy in Pakistan and Asian Games in Thailand.
He led the team to 43 wins in 45 matches, a unique achievement. Islah, who is currently running an academy in Karachi, scored 117 goals in 130 international matches.
“We are catching them young,” he said, adding: “We are encouraging the boys of eight years of age to start swinging hockey stick at our academy with special emphasis on physical fitness.”
The youngsters, he added, were learning fast the Asian-style techniques of dribbling, dodging and wrist work.
Islah pointed out that the low fitness level was the major cause of Pakistan’s failures in recent years. “Our players have not been 100 percent fit. They have been 70 percent fit in terms of international requirement of fitness,” he explained. “We have to overcome this weakness and improve our fitness level if we are to win against such teams as the Netherlands, Germany and Australia,” he added.
He also said the domestic hockey needs to be improved. Elaborating, he said the club-level contests should be made more competitive and students of schools, colleges and universities should be given incentives to play hockey.