It is a daunting challenge, yet not insurmountable. The first step has to be the placement of a sound and professional federation with a competent and dynamic leader at the top
Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) was founded in 1948. The first president of PHF was Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, hailing from an influential family of Jalalpur Sharif. Ghazanfar was a career diplomat who served as Ambassador to Iran, Turkey, India and Italy.
Hockey attained the status of the national sport on August 2, 1948, when Pakistan defeated Belgium 2-1 in the 14th Olympic Games in London. The game of field hockey was played in every nook and corner of Pakistan and was tremendously popular in schools and colleges.
Heavyweights like General Muhammad Musa, Air Marshal Nur Khan, Air Marshal Azim Daudputa, Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan and General Aziz Khan served PHF as presidents. Brigadier MH Atif, Brigadier Hameedi, Col Mudassar Asghar, Sardar Asif Hayat and Lt Col Zafar Ali Khan remained its secretaries.
It was during the second term of Nur Khan as PHF president and Brigadier Atif as secretary that Pakistan had their best days. Pakistan recorded 53 victories out of 84 matches, including World Cups, Olympic Games, Asian Games and Champion Trophies.
Though artificial turf was introduced in 1976 in Montreal Olympics, the powerful Pakistan hockey backed by able federations managed to retain respect in international hockey till 1995.
The decline of Pakistan hockey is a sad story that started from the turn of the century. And the deterioration continues to date.
The reigns of Tariq Kirmani, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Qasim Zia, Akhtar Rasool and Brigadier Khalid S Khokhar supported by secretaries like Akhtar Ul Islam, Khalid Mehmood, Asif Bajwa, Mujahid Ali Rana and Shahbaz Ahmed failed to bring any significant improvement.
Pakistan hockey needs life-saving measures. With an incompetent hockey federation, incapacitated structure and only 36 synthetic turfs in the entire country and with minimal hockey activity in education institutions, the hockey lovers in the country are wishing for a miracle.
There is need for a positive and meaningful change in PHF to salvage Pakistan hockey from its present pathetic condition.
Pakistan hockey remains indebted to individuals like Aslam Roda, Iqbal Bali and Lala Ayub who are keeping hockey alive in Pakistan through personal efforts.
If we look at the large cosmopolitan cities of Pakistan it is alarming to note that, Karachi has only three hockey activists in the form of Hanif Khan, Islahuddin and Zakir Syed. Lahore has only Dar academy. A few players are coached by Olympian Junaid Khan. Hockey in Peshawar is managed by Zahid Shah only, whereas Rawalpindi district ceased producing hockey players after Nasir Naseer and Pervaiz Kayani. It is now only small cities like Gojra, Pir Mahal, Kasur, Khushab, Sargodha and Rinala Khurd that are keeping the hockey pulse ticking in the country.
Pakistan hockey is terribly ill, suffering from system’s syndromes with no heavyweights around to get the government to support PHF. It is our bad luck that our system has ignored competent people like Tayab Ikram, the CEO of AHF, who can extend a lot of support to Pakistan hockey system.
We need a very seasoned person to head PHF who could equal the weights of General Musa and Air Marshal Nur Khan. He should be a man of character and who should carry true love and passion for the game along with understanding of modern hockey.
He should have a team that could provide long- and short-term game development plans and that should have the capacity to execute them.
They will need a sizeable bailout package for development of hockey infrastructure and a formidable under-21 squad.
The immediate steps should include shifting of PHF secretariat from Lahore to Islamabad; and developing the capacity of entire technical staff, including coaches, referees and physical trainers.
The PHF needs private public partnerships and corporate support to generate required finances. It needs to take hockey back to education institutions with the support of HEC and Inter Board Committees. The existing hockey clubs need scrutiny and financial and technical support. Initiating a hockey league without establishing a potent hockey nursery and a pathway for players may not prove very fruitful.
The challenges are daunting, yet not insurmountable. The first step would, however, be the placement of a sound and professional hockey federation with a competent and dynamic leader at its top.