Next week, Dar Hockey Academy will embark on a tour of Europe during which it will face many a top club team
The recently held 65th national hockey championships at Karachi had a huge presence of Pakistan’s biggest hockey nursery. No less than 34 players of Dar Hockey Academy appeared for 10 teams, including all the four semi-finalists.
The academy’s journey which started in 2006 is a fascinating read. It was founded in Lahore by 1984 Olympic gold medallist Tauqeer Dar as suggested by his father late Munir Dar, a 1960 Olympic gold medallist. The purpose was to stem the decline of Pakistan hockey by nurturing the young talent on modern lines.
The academy started with just seven players. It began recruiting talented boys from outside Lahore as well. It provides board and lodging as well as education to the outstation boys through its own resources.
Training is done on the synthetic turf of the National Hockey Stadium by a team always led by some distinguished coach. Decorated Olympian late Mohammad Akhlaq was the first head coach. Currently, World Cup winner Danish Kaleem supervises the training.
Competition is a vital part of training. The Dar Academy boys, especially those residing in the academy hostel, are enrolled in the same school.
Nobel Hockey Club Lahore, consisting entirely of academy boys, figures in the local and outstation club tournaments and has won a number of laurels.
The club is the reigning champion of Lahore district club championships.
Soon, the academy’s boys were being selected for departmental, city and provincial sides for national senior and age-group championships.
All the four semi-finalists in the last four national senior and the last five national junior championships had boys from the Dar HA.
Quality international exposure has its own importance. In 2008, Dar HA made its maiden foreign tour. The academy’s under-15 side participated in the All India Maharaja Ranjit Singh under 15 tournament in Amritsar and returned victorious.
It didn’t take long winning national selection: Pakistan’s victorious team at the under-18 Asia Cup in 2009 included four Dar HA lads.
There was no looking back; Pakistan’s every age-group side has had academy lads since then.
The first tour of Europe was arranged in 2010. Dar HA played matches in Holland, Belgium and Germany. It was just the beginning. Since 2010, the academy has toured Europe five times. During the first two visits, they mostly played against age-group sides. But from the third tour onwards, most of the matches have been arranged against the senior men’s sides of the national leagues, mostly the top tier. In 2012, Khalid Bhatti became the first pure product of the academy to play for the national senior side of Pakistan. Since then, Dar HA boys have figured in almost all the national teams of Pakistan. In the last international outing, the 2018 World Cup, four players were part of the squad. In 2016, the academy toured Malaysia, the country which has been hosting more international events than any other country for quite some time.
Dar HA were the winners of the high-profile Asian Hockey Federation Inter-Academy Tournament at the famous Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh.
Dar HA is all set for their sixth tour of Europe, beginning from August 13. How has all this been possible? For last many years, we have been hearing about the financial woes of Pakistan Hockey Federation. The PHF has repeatedly complained about its empty coffers. Even Pakistan’s participation in the 2018 World Cup was uncertain for the same reason. Then Pakistan pulled out of the FIH Pro League for lack of funds.
On the other hand, this private academy is being run without any help from the government and has been making regular tours of Europe.
Taqueer Dar, the academy’s founding president, says: "Pakistan is among the world’s top countries as regards philanthropy. Pakistanis would donate generously for a just cause. Edhi foundation and the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital are prime examples.
"Realising the sincerity as well as success of our efforts, the sponsors have come in good numbers and are increasing all the time. We have merit as the sole criterion. In the team selected for the forthcoming European tour, almost all the boys belong to the lowest social income group. We currently have more than 15 major sponsors, including big business houses such as the Servis Industries, Shezan International, Diamond Paints and Guard Group of Industries.
"On the European tours, the hosts take care of our board and lodging. A few years back, the Dutch even sent around 1,200 hockey shoes, 600 high quality sticks and 24 goalkeeper kits. The Dar HA distributed the equipment not only among its own colts but also among other academies and clubs throughout the country, including Larkana."
On the forthcoming tour, Dar HA will come across a number of strong sides. Three of them, HGC, Den Bosch and Tilburg, are in the Hoofdklasse, the top tier of the Dutch league -- universally acknowledged as the most competitive domestic hockey competition.These sides have international stars in their ranks, not only Dutch but from other countries as well.
In Belgium, the academy will be playing KHC Dragons, the current national champions of the country. Belgium are the World Champions and Holland the European Champions.
Pakistan’s premier hockey academy could not have asked for a better competition on the training tour.