There was a time when nearly every other person in the country followed hockey, the national game of Pakistan. Those were the days when the game was ruled by world class players like Islahuddin, Samiullah, Shahnaz Sheikh, Hanif Khan. When they left the game in late ‘70s or early ‘80s, they left it in the formidable hands of Hassan Sardar, Kaleemullah, Shahbaz Ahmed, Wasim Feroz and Mansoor Ahmed, to name a few.
Ever since the retirement of the great Shahbaz Senior at the turn of the millennium, the national game has become a source of national shame for Pakistanis all over the world -- and Pakistan Hockey Federation is to be blamed for the failure. Neither has the game improved at the grassroots level nor has the federation done anything of repute to make the game popular. In fact, the streets in which hockey used to be played till the early ‘90s have been taken over by cricket and now everyone wants to emulate Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, since being a cricketer pays; and being a hockey player does all but pay!
Why has the game of hockey gone down when all over the world the standard has risen? The question has been asked so many times by hockey lovers in Pakistan but the answer remains simple -- fortune favours the brave and unless we take brave steps in hockey, our luck will not change.
During the last 66 years, no player has become rich playing hockey in Pakistan and that’s one of the reasons why a hockey player’s son doesn’t like to lift a hockey in Pakistan. He would rather study hard and go for a job that pays well so that his family can live a normal life, something he wasn’t able to lead due to his father’s proud earnings that were shockingly low for a sportsman.
A revolt ahead of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics jolted the then PHF Officials. Had the daily allowance been replaced by a fixed monthly salary, things might have been different at that time.
However, a central contract was introduced with much fanfare but it has been two years now and the players haven’t been paid according to the contract, which is nothing short of being shameful by PHF standards.
Nothing has changed 18 years onwards, and a rebellion might be in the offing with the senior players thinking of either boycotting the Champions Trophy or participating in the event wearing black armbands in protest against the shabby treatment.
What else would you do if the Federation asked you to report for a camp and then cancelled the upcoming tour, resulting in financial losses to the players who had left the profitable European leagues to appear in the camp?
To add insult to injury, the cheques the players were given by the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, for reaching the final of the Asian Games bounced and the players were left empty handed, with nothing in their hands and their bank accounts. Thankfully, sense prevailed and the Government of Punjab rectified the error, but who would want to be a hockey player if even good performance couldn’t get you prizes?
The revolt against the Federation may be breaking news for many but not for the current PHF Secretary Rana Mujahid who was an integral part of the rebellion in 1996. In those days, Pakistan hockey team was the World Champion but the current squad missed the last World Cup since they failed to qualify for the event -- for the first time ever. Even then, the players, including the captain Muhammad Imran, believe that they deserve better treatment or they will be forced to consider "other options".
Sadly, in dictatorial countries like Pakistan, the oppressed don’t have other options and while the players might think of preferring league hockey over country, the Federation is the only authority that can give them the NOC required for such a move. Hence the revolt will die its natural death even before it will start, and the game of hockey will continue to live its shameful life in Pakistan, a country that once ruled the game.
The officials will keep on asking for grants from the government, the critics will keep criticising the Federation for its policies and once a leader of the critics becomes part of the Federation, things will get back to normal -- for the former players. The current ones will do what they do best -- play the rest of their day, hoping to strike gold some day for Pakistan, and for themselves.