Faisalabad ready for revival of hockey

For the second time, Pakistan has failed to qualify for the Hockey World Cup.

January 29, 2023


he ongoing Hockey World Cup in India is set to conclude today, January 29. This marks the second time that Pakistan has failed to qualify for the tournament; they also missed out on participating in the 2014 World Cup. At present, the Pakistan national hockey team holds the 17th spot in the global hockey rankings.

For many in the younger generation, this may not hold much significance, as the Pakistan national hockey team has not demonstrated any notable performance in international competitions for the past two decades. It is important to note, however, Pakistan’s hockey team has not always had such a lacklustre performance. In fact, Pakistan has won the Hockey World Cup four times, which is the highest of any team in the history of the tournament.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s overall historical performance in the Hockey World Cup remains superior to that of all other countries. Pakistan has played a total of 84 matches in the Hockey World Cup competitions and won 53 of them. Additionally, the team has the honour of having reached the finals six times. Despite participating in five of the seven World Cup competitions held since their last win in 1994, the Pakistani team has yet to secure even a semi-final finish.

The period from the 1960 Rome Olympics, where Pakistan won their first gold medal in hockey, to the 1990s, is considered the golden age of Pakistan hockey.

A significant number of Pakistan’s hockey players who achieved international fame during this time hail from the city of Faisalabad.

On the emergence of Pakistan, Col Ali Iqtdar Shah Dara, hailing from Faisalabad, was entrusted with the responsibility of leading Pakistan’s first national hockey team as captain at the 1948 London Olympics. He had been a member of the Indian hockey team that participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He is remembered the architect of hockey in Pakistan.

Abdul Ghafoor Khan and Mohammad Abdul Razzaq, both from Faisalabad, were also members of the Pakistani team that participated in the 1948 London Olympics. As part of the Indian hockey team, Grahanandan Singh played in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and Balbir Singh played in the 1968 Olympics. Both Grahanandan Singh and Balbir Singh had migrated from Faisalabad to India after partition.

After ColDara, hockey players from Faisalabad who were tasked with leading the national team include Chaudhry Ghulam Rasool, Khalid Mehmood, Tariq Aziz, Akhtar Rasool, Shahbaz Ahmed Senior and Muhammad Imran. In addition, dozens of players from Faisalabad, including Olympians Khalid Bashir, Rana Mujahid Ali, Shafqat Malik and Shehzad Ahmed Chishti, have played for the national hockey team. More recently, Faisalabad’s Abuzar, Ejaz Ahmed, Abubakar Mahmood and Ghazanfar Ali have represented the national team in international competitions.

RanaMujahid Ali, an Olympian, says that Faisalabad has always been a hub for hockey in Pakistan and has provided more players to the national hockey team than any other city in the country. “Out of the four World Cups that Pakistan has won, in 1971, 1982 and 1994, the team leaders Khalid Mehmood, Akhtar Rasool and Shahbaz Senior, hailed from Faisalabad. Tariq Aziz, the captain of the Olympic gold medal-winning team in 1968, also hailed from Faisalabad.”

According to Mujahid, there is no shortage of hockey players in Faisalabad, but the players face difficulties due to the lack of facilities required to improve their game. He says Faisalabad Hockey Stadium was the only place in the city where an Astroturf was available, but it was destroyed many years ago. A new turf has yet to beinstalled.

“With funding from the Punjab Sports Board, a new ground is being built next to the old hockey stadium, and an Astroturf is being installed there. This has raised hopesfor the revival of the national sport,“ he says.

Olympian Muhammad Shafqat Malik says the main cause for the decline of hockey was its neglect by the government and a crippling shortage of funds. “Under the points system of the International Hockey Federation, it is mandatory to play home and away series, but we don’t have the financial resources to send the team to other countries. Without playing the matches, how can we earn any points and qualify for the World Cup or other competitions,” he asks.

Malik says that the government should take proactive steps to revive the national sport at the school and college level, and hold institutions accountable if they fail to form hockey teams. Malik says such an approach can help discover and nurture talented players at the grassroots level, ultimately leading to a resurgence of the sport.

He is optimistic about the resurgence of hockey with the construction of the new hockey ground in Faisalabad. He acknowledges that there has been a delay in the construction, but announces that it is nearly complete and is excited that there will be better opportunities for local players now. “After a long period of time, a new ground has finally been built and Astroturf is being installed. In addition, a high-performance centre will also be built for training. This will greatly benefit the players,” he says.

Former international hockey star and senior coach Rana Khalid Iqbal says that the revival of hockey in Faisalabad is crucial for the resurgence of the sport at the national level. He says that the government’s commitment to the sport can be gauged from the investment it makes in the facilities.

Iqbal says he hope that after the installation of Astroturf in the new hockey ground, the old ground, too, will be upgraded. He says the players are determined to restore the sport to its past glory. “Faisalabad’s players are determined to bring back the golden era of hockey. They deserve full support from the government,” he concludes.

The writer has been associated with journalism for the past decade. He tweets naeemahmad876