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How Pakistan hockey dribbled into oblivion

On December 4, 1994, Pakistan reached the pinnacle of the hockey world after winning the world cup for the fourth time.

The national team was a force to reckon with and had booked a place in the annals of hockey history. Qualifying rounds were for lesser mortals and news of such lowly contests weren’t considered worthy of being printed. Even if such news made it to the papers, it was probably buried deep in the sports section.

But 10 years on, news of qualifying encounters could no longer be relegated to such ignominy. For the first time in its history, Pakistan failed to qualify for the tournament it had dominated in the past.

In 2015, much to the dismay of its thinning hockey fan base, Pakistan suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of minnows Ireland. The defeat ensured another first: Pakistan failed to qualify for Olympics hockey.
The squad that won the 1978 World Cup.

Cricket fans can recall that the Irish had performed a similar feat against Pakistan. But they were relieved that drubbing was in the main event and the cricket team has never failed to qualify for an international event.

Another notable event is the Hockey Champions trophy, an international tournament which was conceived by the Pakistan Hockey Federation in 1978. Incidentally, the last time Pakistan won the trophy was also in 1994. Since 1998, Pakistan has made it to the final only once, when it lost to 2-0 to Germany in 2014.

The Pakistan-India semi-final in that tournament is a rare, memorable moment in recent Pakistan hockey history. Perhaps the challenge of playing against the Indian team in India allowed the Pakistanis to play out of their skins.
Pakistani team at the 1956 Olympics. Some players played barefoot.

Pakistan’s nosedive seems to have begun at the turn of the millennium, but this rapid descent did not catch people’s attention until 2010 when Pakistan finished last in that year’s world cup.

Since then, Pakistan has hit the trough and stayed there, unwilling to resurrect itself. The fact that they were eliminated from the World Cup and Olympics are a clear testament to their lack of effort.

A closer look at the last decade is warranted to determine some of the causes which may have contributed to the downturn in Pakistan’s fortunes in hockey.

The 1998 Champions trophy held in Lahore was the last competitive international hockey tournament hosted by Pakistan. The consequences of this 18-year hockey drought cannot be overestimated.

Cricket has also experienced a similar drought, but unlike hockey, remedial steps have been taken to soften the blow. Amongst these steps is the establishment of a home away from home in the UAE.
Pakistan wins the 1994 world cup.

The state-of-the art cricket complex in Dubai boasts facilities that put Pakistan’s test centres to shame. Additionally, the Cricket Board has been proactive in its approach and has ensured that opportunities for its players to gain international exposure should not be allowed to pass.

No such initiatives were taken for hockey. Public support and interest started drying up as an inevitable result of this, which in turn, affected the number of talented youth showing interest in the sport.

The financial aspect of things cannot be ignored either: hockey was never a lucrative game in Pakistan and the apathy towards the sport has made it even less so.

Earlier this year, rumours were circulating that a franchise-based hockey league was being introduced, but it appears that the league will not take off due to financial constraints.

It is unfortunate that there’s hardly any institutional support for Pakistan’s national sport. If it stays this way, the coming generation will wonder why hockey is our national sport.

courtesy: dawn news



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