Being a 90’s kid, I have some blurred memories of Pakistan’s roar in cricket fields, glory in squash courts and dominance on hockey turfs. It seems like its all gone now, specifically the position of hockey is arguably the worst at the moment. “Pakistan is out of World Cup, Pakistan couldn’t qualify for Olympics, we withdrew from Champions Trophy, which means we are standing at point zero, we will have to take small steps forward, it will take time, it will require planning,“ said former Olympian, Kamran Ashraf, who has represented Pakistan in 166 internationals and scored 129 goals as a center forward from 1993 to 2002 and works with PHF as well.
One of the main reasons for Pakistan’s debacle in hockey is that there are not enough players available for selection, Kamran told, “I cannot tell you the exact number of players at the upper level in the domestic circuit, but, there would be hardly 100 players including seniors and juniors both, the pool of players is small and there are no quality players as well.”
There is no motivation for kids to pick up a hockey stick and head towards a ground to pursuit it as a profession. The kids of current generation have not seen those glorious days, they don’t have heroes to idealize, moreover, there is no money involved in the game, “Players used to get government jobs during my playing days, we had our futures secured and could concentrate on our game only.”
The shocking and bitter truth about Pakistan’s hockey today is that there is absolutely no earning for players. They are not offered jobs, they are hardly hired on contractual basis, PHF doesn’t have enough funds to award them central contracts, they just get a nominal match fee. The former striker recalled, “When I started playing hockey in 1989, I was an intermediate student, but, I had a permanent government job in my hand. These days, players get hardly $100 as a match fee, they barely play 15 games in a year. Is $1500 enough for a men and his family? Why would a kid want to become a national hockey player?” he added, “Even if a hockey player gets injured, he is left on his own, the hockey federation does not shoulder the burden of his treatment.” There is no wonder why a legend recently claimed that players are playing for their individual performance so that they are picked by some league organizers.
There are no funds released by the government for development of hockey in the country. The funds allocated by government for the PHF are just spent on sending teams on tours. There was a time when there was corruption in PHF, but, now there is not even enough money for wrongdoings.
Hockey has to be rebuilt in the country. PHF’s academies around the country are not functioning at the moment. The federation is looking to revamp them, “We want to have academies with hostels, we want the players to live there, study there and train there,” he went on to say, “To establish such academies, we need time and specially funds, nothing can be done without injecting sufficient amount of money in the system.” It is unfair to ask the hockey federation to produce some significant results in the current scenario.
The previous managements of Pakistan Hockey Federation missed some key decisions at key moments. At the point when government was mulling about suspending the policy of awarding permanent jobs to hockey players, the federation should have taken a stance. There was lack of planning and vision, when Pakistan’s hockey was at its peak, the federation should have laid a firm platform for the next twenty years. “We are suffering due to our predecessors, they didn’t have any planning, they didn’t do anything to grow the game as a result, here we are standing at nothing,” stated Kamran.
Now the PHF is looking to revamp the game in the country. Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) is looking to work at the grass root level and attract young players towards the game. Similar to footsall, Hockey 5 is another entertaining format of field hockey that the world is adopting. It involves five players a side and has different rules. The PHF is planning to promote the game among youngsters and likely to hold a Hockey 5 tournament in Ramadan in Lahore.
Kamran Ashraf opened up about PHF’s plan about conducting a hockey league in October. Although, its an infant idea at the moment, but, there are hopes that it be organized successfully and international players will participate in the tournament. “International players are keen to participate in Pakistan’s hockey league, we have talked to German, Australian, South Africa, Kiwi, Argentinian and even Indian players, they are all interested to play in Pakistan and haven’t cited any security concerns yet,” he further explained, “We are in contact with them and negotiating over prices and other issues, the league will feature different franchises, who will bid for players.
The former Olympian didn’t hesitate a bit in negating any chances of shifting the league to any other country, “The motive of holding the league is to promote the game in country, there is no point of hosting it somewhere else, if international players don’t get security clearance, the league will take place involving local players only.”
It seems like Pakistan and India both have lost their dominance in hockey fields and the Western countries are ruling Asian giants at the international stage. However, it looks like India is on the right track and they will soon be among the best teams in the world once again, “Hockey India League is playing a very positive role in Indian hockey and they are on the right track. Indian players playing with and against the best players in the world that is helping them to groom. We hope that our own hockey league will also help put Pakistan on the right track.”
Pakistan fans should not expect much from the team for now. The team is in rebuilding process, Pakistan didn’t perform well in the Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament and they weren’t supposed to do well. Kamran Ashraf, who was also the assistant coach of Pakistan team said, “We dropped some senior players and the team had fresh faces, they weren’t experienced enough, we are not bothered about that, our main objective at the moment is to qualify for the World Cup, either by winning the Asia Cup or performing well in the qualifying round, we hope that our team will be ready by then.”