Saturday May 18, 2024

Our hockey debacle

By Waqas Younas
January 09, 2019

The fate of world cups in 1994, whether field hockey or soccer, was increasingly being decided on the basis of penalty shoot-outs. Our fortune was hanging in the balance in the hockey World Cup final on December 4, 1994 as it had come down to penalty shoot-outs. Late Pakistani goalkeeper Mansoor Ahmad had laser-like focus on the ball.

The umpire was ready, as was the Dutch player. The umpire whistled, heartbeats stopped and the Dutch player pushed the ball towards Mansoor’s right. Mansoor threw his body that way, as if to catch the best prize in the world. Best prize it was – he stopped the ball. Players and people back home jumped in ecstasy. Pakistan was the world champion. Sadly, for the last time. This glory is now lost.

Our exit from the Hockey World Cup 2018, held in India, was shocking. We lost to Belgium, without scoring a goal, to a team that eons ago would have dreamt of scoring a goal against Pakistan. Our team almost pulled out of this world cup owing to a lack of sponsorship, but managed to make it on time.

However, it is disappointing to see our nation, once considered to be a giant in field hockey (its national sport), crashing out of the world cup without winning. This warrants some serious analysis.

So, our sports analysts turned to ‘experts’ ” for this purpose. On one TV show, an anchor was trying to determine the reasons for our hockey team’s failures. His guests were two former Olympians from our more triumphant days. One of them remarked that we failed because we didn’t select players with “fresh legs”. He implied that married or older players enfeeble a team since their “tissues weaken” with age.

Is this true? Do tissues only weaken in a player’s legs? If all tissues weaken, can we infer that mental tissues are also weakened in the process? And if they do, should married or older people be employed as coaches, trainers, and professionals in senior positions in the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF)? Does marital status or age matter for athletes? Marriage is not an obstacle to greatness.

Tennis requires extreme agility and fitness. Roger Federer has won the most Grand Slams; he won some even after he got married in 2009. Swimming is another intensive sport. Michael Phelps, a great swimmer, kept on winning Olympic medals even after he was married. Squash is fairly demanding. Last year, a top-ranking husband and wife duo won the men’s and women’s titles in the US Open.

But these are isolated examples, you may say. Our experts seem to have implied that copulation weakens players. However, many scientific studies have disproved the idea that intimate relations affect athletic performance.

The notion that age hinders athletic abilities is discredited if we examine the profiles of teams that participated in the Hockey World Cup 2018. Australia is ranked in the first position across the world. It has 11 players who are 25 or above (including three players who are over 30). The Netherlands is another top-ranked team that has over six players who are 30 and above. Argentina is a current Olympic champion. It has nine players above the age of 30, including one who is 39 and another who is 37. Clearly, hockey is not just for “fresh legs”..

If our experts were in charge of sports in other countries, they would have deprived the world of the skills that Roger Federer and others bring to their respective sports. They also wouldn’t have included many deserving players because of their marital status or age had they been coaching hockey teams in Australia or Argentina.

We need a more prudent dissection of our hockey team’s failure. The aforementioned analysis by our ‘experts’ ignores ground realities. I have no doubt that the failures of our hockey team over the last couple of decades can be attributed to this approach. Since these experts (former hockey players) have been at the helm of affairs in the PHF for quite some time, their decisions have probably been informed by it.

We need to reconsider how we appoint people to senior positions in the PHF. Is being a former great player sufficient to become a coach, trainer or a decision-maker in the PHF? This criterion alone shouldn’t make someone qualify for a particular job that requires specialised skills.

Excellence as a player alone doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to analyse team performance, train and produce athletes, and lead an organisation. If it did, appointing former hockey players would have worked to our benefit and Pakistan would have been a world champion in hockey today. We need to change our approach or we won’t be able to bring back the glory of field hockey.


Twitter: @wyounas