Rob Lathouwers, a seasoned umpire, used to call Pakistan his second home
On the 19th of last month, I had greeted my great friend Rob Lathouwers on his 69th birthday. Just 11 days later, this Monday, I received the shocking news of his sudden demise due to cardiac arrest in his hometown Vught, in Holland.Rob Lathouwers of Holland came from the most distinguished family of hockey umpires. I often mentioned, “Our Rob was born with a whistle in his mouth.” His father Guust Lathouwers umpired in 67 international games, including as many as three Olympics. Guust’s younger brother Piet Lathouwers umpired in 65, including two Olympics. Little wonder then that Rob started umpiring at the age of 18 in junior club matches, and it lasted 26 years.
He whistled in international hockey from 1978-1994. What an eventful umpiring career he had: 158 international matches, including three Olympics, two World Cups, and 11 editions of the Champions Trophy.
Guust Lathouwers Memorial Trophy, instituted in 1986 by the FIH, in the name of Rob`s father is awarded every two years to an individual for outstanding services to the development and promotion of umpiring. Rob used to say, “I was never given this award perhaps as it was named after dad.”
Lahore`s National Hockey Stadium was his favourite venue. “It is huge. When filled it is a sight to behold. The 1990 World Cup there holds bitter-sweet memories for me. I had been aspiring to umpire the final at the world’s biggest hockey stadium. My wish couldn’t come true as Holland featured in the final. Seeing my country crowned the World Champions was the only consolation.”
He had a long-standing bond with Pakistan. “Pakistan is a second home to me,” he would say. Rob visited the country 12 times. In the 1980s & 90s, umpiring assignments brought him to Pakistan. Over the last decade or so, Rob`s link with Pakistan was mainly because of his affiliation with the Dar Hockey Academy. The Lahore-based academy established in 2006 quickly emerged as Pakistan`s biggest production line of talented players and has been regularly contributing to the national teams for many years now. And Rob`s contribution had been tremendous. From 2010-2019, Dar Hockey Academy visited Holland six times, Belgium thrice and Germany also thrice for training tours. Rob always arranged all these trips: visas, schedule of matches, board & lodging, travel, etc. During all the tours to Holland, Hockey Club MOP in Vught have been the wonderful hosts of the Dar Academy. Rob`s family`s association with the MOP Club, in various roles, spans three generations. His uncle and brother had tenures as the club`s president. At the time of his death, Rob was a member of the club`s executive committee.
During the last decade or so, foreign teams have been reluctant to visit Pakistan because of terrorism and the country`s poor international ranking. In this period, the only two visits by strong international teams which brought some excitement to Pakistani hockey lovers were largely due to the efforts of the great umpire. In 2012, on a request from Rob`s closest Pakistani friend Olympic gold medallist Tauqeer Dar, who is the President of Dar Academy, Rob brought a team from Holland in Pakistan. Flying Dutch Veterans had several stars, including Olympic gold medallists and World Cup winners. The team played three matches in Lahore, including two in the jam-packed Johar Town stadium. Remember, terrorism in Pakistan was at its worst at the time.
Then in late 2017, the then secretary PHF Shahbaz Ahmad approached Rob who contacted leading international stars. In January 2018, a star-studded World XI played two highly publicised matches at the Abdul Sattar Edhi hockey stadium, Karachi, and National hockey stadium, Lahore. The composition of the touring World XI was amazing. It included big names from all the top hockey countries. The biggest stars were Australia`s Grant Schubert (gold medals from Olympics, World Cup, and Commonwealth Games), Holland’s Rob Reckers (Olympic silver, European gold, and three Champions Trophy golds), New Zealand’s Phil Burrows (his country’s most capped player and top field goal scorer). There were also Argentine and Spanish players who were members of the national team at the time.
On the sidelines of the tour, six foreign hockey legends (four players and two umpires, including Rob) and five Pakistani hockey greats from the past were inducted into the Hall of Fame by the PHF in an impressive ceremony in Karachi.
A treasure trove of interesting hockey incidents and anecdotes, Rob was a gift for hockey journalists and historians. The scribe enjoyed many informative sittings with him. I interviewed him for a British hockey magazine in 2012 and also for ‘The News’ in 2018. When asked if there was a difficult team to umpire, Rob came out with a very interesting answer. “India/Pakistan games. Reason: there were 22 magicians on the field at least during those days. I had to concentrate more so as not to be distracted by the players’ artistry and neglect my job.”
Pakistan hockey, especially Dar Academy, remained close to his heart. Tauqeer Dar talked to him just two days before his demise. “Rob was very keen for another tour of Holland by our academy despite my reluctance because of Covid. He was still insisting,” Tauqeer said.
Whenever a Dar Academy boy gained selection for Pakistan, he expressed great happiness. Pakistan hockey has lost a great friend and Dar Hockey Academy has lost a father figure.