The visit of the World XI and the former greats to Pakistan has rejuvenated national hockey. There is no doubt about that. It should restore the confidence of European and Australian players to join Pakistan Hockey League (PHL). There is no way to boost the standard of Pakistani players but to give them opportunities to play rigorous hockey with world stars.
“When we took charge of PHF, the game of hockey was in disarray. Pakistan had failed to qualify for the World Cup and Olympics. Neither was any major foreign team ready to come here nor were we invited by them. The domestic hockey was ruined. As many as 14 teams had been closed, and even Pakistan colour holders were jobless,” said PHF president Khalid Khokhar in an interview.
“Now Pakistan has qualified for World Cup 2018 and we are eyeing 2020 Olympics through Asian Games 2018,” he said. “We consolidated the national game at the grassroots level, revived more than a dozen domestic championships with prize money and got five departments to establish hockey teams,” he said.
“Then we invited the FIH bosses to Pakistan last year and took them into confidence about what we wanted to do to get international hockey back in the country,” he said. “FIH and AHF are helping us to strengthen Pakistan hockey because they know that the world of hockey is incomplete without Pakistan which is the founder and winner of various hockey championships.
“The poor show from our senior team in a couple of events compelled us to give opportunity to the junior team. If we do not work on our junior side, our decline will not stop,” Khokhar observed.
“We sent our under-18 boys to Australia for participation in their national under-18 championship. They won the championship and boosted our hopes. They renewed our faith that our players have the ability to give tough competition to the Europeans and the Australians.
“When we were planning to invite the World XI, keeping in mind the future requirements, the PHF decided to field the juniors against the World XI. It was a difficult decision, but we took it. And hockey enthusiasts saw the result. The juniors played with courage and did not come under pressure. In the second match in Lahore, they conceded lead twice but came back and drew the match 3-3.
“The junior team showed that it has potential, skill, talent, commitment and courage to face the world’s renowned players even while they are at the junior level.
“The coming months are tough for the senior team. We are focusing on the Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta. We don’t have any magic wand to raise our standard of hockey overnight. We have to go a long way and play tough hockey against strong teams,” he said.
“What PHF has done in the last two years and does in the near future will bear fruit when our junior boys and a third string will mature and replace the seniors.
“Through the Hall of Fame ceremony and matches with World XI in Karachi and Lahore, the hockey-playing countries have seen that the country is peaceful which will help us in near future when PHF organises Pakistan Hockey League (PHL),” the PHF president said and added that he wanted to make PHL a historic event.
About the Hall of Fame awards, he said Pakistan had produced a number of hockey greats. “We have many great players here. But it was not possible to award all of them in one go. Thus, those great names whose memories are still fresh in the minds of sports lovers were nominated to make the event colourful and attract the attention of the audience from across the world,” Khokhar said.
“Can anyone say that Islahuddin, Shahnaz Sheikh, Hasan Sardar, Samiullah, Akhtar Rasool, and Shahbaz Ahmed are not among the greats?”
“Some critics who only wanted the musical chair game to continue are criticising us on the nomination for Hall of Fame awards. I want to make it clear that this process will not stop here. It was only the first step. When we organise other ceremonies on different occasions, others will also be awarded,” he said.
The PHF president thanked COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa for providing foolproof security not only for the World XI matches but also during domestic hockey championships in the country.
He also thanked Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and Sindh chief minister Syed Murad Ali Shah for their support in the revival of the national game.
Meanwhile, former hockey legends before leaving the country said that they were delighted by the security arrangements and the facilities provided during their stay in Pakistan.
They said that they hope Pakistan would come out of the crisis that it is facing. They said their main purpose to come here was to give a message to all hockey-playing countries and their players that this country is safe and ready for international hockey activities. They hoped that PHL would prove successful and attract the attention of foreign players.
The former legends said that the professional league in Pakistan would bring stability and consolidation in the game in the country and provide opportunities to the local players to play high-standard hockey with foreign players.
Syed Intikhab Ali (The News)