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Pakistan’s national hockey team won’t be appearing in this year’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The PHF tells us it is due to the non-availability of funds. Punjab chief minister announced granting Rs100 million to the federation, but it was a bit too late, though not too little.

 

The tournament begins from the 13th of March and the federation says the time is too short for preparing the side. It didn’t even have the resources to hold the camp.

The year 2013 was a year of unprecedented failures for the Pakistan hockey team. They failed to qualify for the World Cup — this is something that was unthinkable until a few years ago.

The under-21 team finished ninth in the Junior World Cup — our worst ever finish.

Now, in 2014, it seems Pakistan will not participate in any international event. We won’t be at the Commonwealth Games because the PHF didn’t send the application for it through the Pakistan Olympic Association led by Lt Gen (Rtd) Arif Hassan, which is recognised by the International Olympic Committee.

Instead, the PHF threw its weight behind the government-backed POA, which is headed by Maj Gen (Rtd) Akram Sahi.

For the same reason, the national team’s appearance in the Asian Games is also doubtful.

The failure to enter these tournaments for these reasons speaks volumes about the efficiency of the officials running the national game.

During the tenure of the previous setup of the PHF (president Qasim Zia, secretary Asif Bajwa), which ran from 2008-13, numerous grants were dished out by the government. It was no surprise, as Qasim Zia’s own PPP was in power at the centre, while Asif Bajwa enjoyed the backing of the PML-N, the party ruling Punjab.

In fact, he owed his appointment to a very prominent politician of the PML-N, who is now a federal minister, is Asif’s namesake and also hails from Sialkot.

All this time, the twosome had great words for the governments, federal and provincial, for extending financial help. Reportedly, the money given came close to Rs1 billion. Where did it all go?

A large amount was wasted in the grand scheme of 18 academies. The complete failure of the academies was proved by the result achieved in the Junior World Cup.

One reason given for the empty coffers is the lack of international hockey in Pakistan as foreign teams are reluctant to come.

The PHF officials have been striving to arrange a home-and-away series with India. Schedules were announced twice, but then nothing occurred.

Recently, it has been stated that the two federations have again agreed for a two-leg series; let’s see what happens.

One wonders why other options haven’t been considered. The PHF could have taken a cue from cricket. Pakistan’s cricketers have been regularly appearing in Tests and limited overs series at neutral venues.

The Gulf is an ideal location. With such a large expat community from the sub-continent, hockey matches between Pakistan and India are a sure money spinner, not only in the UAE but other places as well.

Hockey is very popular among the natives of Oman. They feature in the Asian Games and the Asia Cup. During the last few years, hockey has made astonishing progress in Qatar.

In 2012, the final of the Asian Champions Trophy, in Doha, between Pakistan and India drew a crowd of more than 7,000.

Many of us are not aware of the fact that it was in this part of the world that prize money was introduced in the game of hockey. Late Brigadier MH Atif, a former secretary of the PHF who also held many important positions in the FIH, realised the potential of the Gulf back in the 1980s.

The Pakistan-India hockey series organised by him in Dubai and Kuwait in the mid ‘80s were the first real international hockey activity in that region.

Later, he took another revolutionary step. In 1986, two four-nation events, in Dubai and Kuwait, were the first international hockey tournaments anywhere in the world to officially offer prize money.

Hence, a series of matches against India scheduled in Qatar, Oman, Dubai, Sharjah and Kuwait would surely do a lot to help the PHF overcome its financial problems.

Then there is also the possibility of raising money through domestic tournaments. The recent Faysal Bank T20 championship in Rawalpindi drew huge crowds; matches were also televised. It was a pleasant surprise to find individual sponsors even for the competing teams.

Similar tournaments in hockey can be planned with the regional outfits competing.

Admittedly, it is difficult for any sport in this country apart from cricket to obtain corporate patronage. But professional marketing is the name of the game. Even today, with all the concerns about security, a country with a population of 190 million remains an attractive market.

If sports such as polo and golf, which have a very limited base, can attract sizeable sponsorships, why can’t hockey?

For this, sincerity and vision of people like Nur Khan and M H Atif are required. Unfortunately, today Pakistan hockey is run by myopic mindsets of the kind of Akhtar Rasool and Rana Mujahid.

Both were very much part of the previous setup: Akhtar was the manager/chief coach of the national team; and Rana was the associate secretary as well as the manager/chief coach of the junior squad.

They failed to raise capable national teams, properly utilise the available funds and generate private sponsorship.

In a way it would be a blessing for the duo if Pakistan failed to appear in international events. Remember the adage “out of sight, out of mind?” The national team’s absence from the international arena obviously means the federation will not have to answer any questions about performance. Already the interest of the general public in Pakistan hockey is at an all-time low.