How Pakistani hockey went from being a world champion to an absentee from the Olympic Games | Olympic News
Shakeel Abbasi (Shakeel Abbasi) still remembers when he put on the Pakistan National Hockey Team jersey
Once a prolific forward on the men’s team, Abbas now feels he made a “big mistake” in hockey as a career. He said that as a promising player, he has many options.
“I chose hockey instead of cricket. It was a big mistake. I did a good job in both, but I prefer our national sports [hockey]. Sometimes, I think this is a big mistake,” three-time Olympic athlete Abasi told Al Jazeera.
The 37-year-old experienced center, once considered one of the best young forwards in the world of hockey, now barely makes a living by playing professional hockey leagues in England, the Netherlands and Malaysia.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, even those leagues have not been held. This is definitely a test of time for me, because one needs money to survive,” he said.
“This happened to a player who has played for the country for many years, participated in three Olympics, two World Cups and eight championship trophy competitions. When I saw children playing hockey, I sympathized with them.”
Abasi was born in Pakistan and won the last of three Olympic gold medals (Los Angeles in 1984). From 2003 to 2014, he represented the national team in more than 300 games and won several medals.
Absent Tokyo 2020
But this is State of hockey In Pakistan, the former captain is not alone.
Pakistan has experienced a shocking continuous decline, from consistently ranking in the top four to the latest ranking of 18th.
The Tokyo Olympics is Pakistan’s second consecutive absence from this multi-sports event.It also failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup For the first time in history And won a frustrating 12th place in the 2018 edition.
For a country that has won three Olympic gold medals and a record four World Cup titles, missing a back-to-back Olympics is tantamount to a disaster for its followers.
“It’s heartbreaking to see Pakistan’s hockey in its current state,” 51-year-old hockey fan Moezuddin Qureshi told Al Jazeera.
“Pakistan’s national anthem pays tribute to the Olympic gold medalist. This is still my best memory. This was once something we were very proud of. We grew up playing hockey on the street, but now our children know nothing about the sport because We are nowhere to be found in the movement we have ruled for decades.”
Some fans and experts concluded that Pakistani hockey was “dead”, while others showed slight optimism at best, thinking it was “on a ventilator.”
Pakistan started its Olympic journey with a silver medal in Melbourne in 1956, and achieved even better results in Rome four years later, breaking India’s record of six consecutive gold medals.
Won two silver medals and one gold medal in the next three Olympics, and then won the bronze medal in 1976, as the team consolidated its position among the superpowers.
Seoul was on the podium in Seoul in 1988 and won the bronze medal in Barcelona four years later. This is their last Olympic medal so far.
“Failed to adapt to modern hockey”
The decline of hockey in Pakistan began in the 1980s.
Some experts believe that the introduction of artificial turf in the 1970s began to affect the performance of Pakistani and Indian players. Both are called the “king of grass.”
Over the years, the sport has continued to develop and requires better physical fitness, but analysts say Pakistan has fallen behind in the competition.
Cricket is the most popular sport in the country. After many schools and educational institutions replaced hockey clothing with cricket, the decline of hockey was also blamed.
In addition to being widely criticized for improper planning, officials of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) also face charges of corruption and misuse of government funds.
The “legend” that led Pakistan to glory in the past has also been criticized by analysts as selfish behavior.
“Our former players have always opposed the appointment of foreign coaches, but when they have the opportunity to coach the national team, they have repeatedly failed. Our failure to adapt to modern hockey has had a great impact on us,” sports reporter and former hockey commentator Sardar Khan Tell Al Jazeera.
“Hire foreign coaches to help Pakistan adapt to modern hockey, but due to opposition from the former players, they don’t have enough time.
“PHF did not manage hockey properly. They did not give players opportunities based on performance. I remember we [the media] Even have to raise our voice for Sohail Abbas [record international goal scorer with 348 goals] Let him enter the team,” Khan said, then ruled out the popularity of cricket as the reason for the demise of hockey in Pakistan.
“The popularity of cricket is by no means a reason, because cricket is always more commercially valuable than hockey.”
At the same time, Samiu Lakhan, who played in the “Golden Age”, admitted that the former players could not serve Pakistani hockey well, but outlined some other factors in the country’s current sport.
“Many former players are bargaining for positions [in the PHF] But this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Samiula, known for his “Pegasus”, told Al Jazeera.
“We lack dynamic officials to lead the PHF. In our time as players, we are fortunate to have such officials who sincerely work for the game. Club-level politics also ruined the sport.
“The funds obtained by the PHF in the past were not used in the right way. We do not have modern equipment. The venues in big cities like Karachi are centralized and local players cannot enter.”
But the former captain is still optimistic that Pakistan can regain its lost status.
“If we work hard and manage hockey properly, we can see significant results in four years. The talent still exists, but the government must patronize the sport as it used to. The department must provide jobs for hockey players, and they must be financially Be guaranteed.
“It is necessary to ensure financial incentives for players by introducing sponsors to launch a hockey league in our own country.”
Abbas agrees with these views, saying that the introduction of the league is essential to the revival of hockey in the country.
“This requires the efforts of the PHF, but for this, we need capable senior officials, which is not the case at present,” he said.
The retired Brigadier General Khalid Sajjad Khokhar is the current PHF chairman and has held this position since 2015, while former player Asif Bajwa has served as secretary since 2019, which is his second term in the office.
Despite his achievements, performance and rankings, Bajwa, who represented Pakistan from 1991 to 1996, believes that hockey is not in a state of despair.
“We may be ranked 18th on paper, but technically, we are still ranked 8th,” Bajwa told Al Jazeera.
“After the temporary PHF officials decided to skip the 2019 Professional Hockey League game, Pakistan’s ranking dropped sharply. This was a disastrous decision. FIH gave us penalty points and huge fines. [hockey’s world governing body] This is why we failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics,” he said.
But Bajwa, who held the same position from 2008 to 2013, admitted that there is still a lot of work to be done to get the game back on track.
“First of all, our players need opportunities for internationalization, which requires travel. We need to provide funds for this, but we are not as rich as the cricket committee.
“Hockey has also become an expensive sport. Changes such as replacing wooden sticks with graphite sticks have increased costs. Astroturf also requires a lot of money.
“A lot is being planned to improve our domestic hockey. We are working with provincial governments and are committed to establishing centers at the regional level. We will soon start promoting games in schools.
“We also have plans to start the league,” he said.
“Hockey is in our blood. Once the epidemic is over and things start to get back on track, we will definitely get better.”
But former Pakistani goalkeeper Imran Butt, who played international hockey from 2009 to 2018, still doesn’t believe it.
“It’s time for us to get rid of fantasy and accept reality. If we played more games, our ranking could have dropped further,” Bart told Al Jazeera.
“PHF must come up with a good plan to benefit the players. Only implementing the appropriate plan is our way forward.
“PHF must work for hockey, because only verbal service will not take us anywhere.”