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PHF’s Claims: Triumph or Deception?

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By Rizwana Jabeen

Pakistan’s hockey landscape is poised for a new chapter as the International Hockey Federation (FIH) designates the nation as one of the hosts for the Olympic hockey qualifiers. Yet, as the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) touts this allocation as a herald of hockey’s revival, critical questions loom. Can this event genuinely mark the return to the golden era of Pakistani hockey?

The forthcoming FIH hockey Olympic qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics are set to take place across Spain, China, and Pakistan in January 2024. The PHF’s Secretary, Haider Hussain, champions this development, proclaiming it as the initial raindrop in the resurgence of Pakistan’s hockey glory.

However, the grandeur of the past and the present reality cast a sharp contrast. In the days when Pakistan held a monopoly on titles, securing Olympics and World Cup triumphs, the sport’s popularity was akin to cricket’s present stature. Household names were etched onto the national hockey team roster, and iconic players like Stefan Blocher of Germany, Floris Jan Bovelander of Holland, and Mohammad Shahid of India shared the limelight. Can today’s hockey landscape, where even naming a single national player proves challenging, truly resonate with the resounding echoes of that era?

The optimism about the return to glory is accompanied by logistical challenges. The PHF envisions Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium, which once roared with thousands of ardent fans during the 1990 World Cup, brimming once again. However, the comparison between the fervor of that era and the current scenario is stark. With a mere fraction of the population able to recognize any player from the national hockey team, packing a colossal stadium of over 50,000 appears far-fetched.

The road to Olympic qualification, too, is steep and demanding. While the world’s hockey powerhouses gear up, Pakistan’s 16th-ranked team faces an uphill battle. A rigorous competition involving two qualifiers, in Lahore and Valencia, will determine the final six berths for the Paris 2024 Olympics. For Pakistan, securing a place amidst such fierce competition is a formidable challenge.

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Undoubtedly, hosting an Olympic qualifier is a positive step for rejuvenating hockey activities in Pakistan. However, it prompts us to question whether it truly carries the promise of rekindling the illustrious days of the sport. As the anticipation builds and preparations unfold, the echoes of past glories serve as both an inspiration and a reminder of the substantial journey that lies ahead.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has been on a spree of self-congratulation, lauding Pakistan’s recent achievements on the international hockey stage. However, beneath the apparent glimmers of success lies a tangled web of half-truths and skewed narratives. A closer examination of these claims prompts us to question the PHF’s attempt to paint a rosy picture of the nation’s hockey resurgence.

One of the PHF’s standout boasts revolves around Pakistan’s silver medal at the Junior Asia Cup 2023, coupled with the claim that the country has secured a Junior World Cup qualification after a prolonged interval. However, a quick historical scan reveals that Pakistan has consistently qualified for the Junior World Cup, with a single exception in 2001.

The narrative further unravels as we delve into the PHF’s past blunders. The glaring instance of Pakistan’s absence from the 2016 Junior World Cup, despite being eligible, due to administrative mismanagement casts a shadow on the federation’s credibility. The inability to arrange timely visas and logistical oversights exemplify the recurrent administrative lapses under the leadership of Brig (retd) Khalid Sajjad Khokhar.

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Such attempts at crafting a façade of achievement are not novel to the PHF. A classic instance was witnessed during the 2022 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, where Pakistan clinched the third position. The federation’s assertion that this success marked a significant turnaround is akin to hailing a meager drizzle as a torrential downpour.

Scrutinizing the 2022 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup unveils a different story altogether. With a participation roster lacking any European teams, the field was notably weakened. Absence of hockey’s powerhouses raised eyebrows, yet the PHF was resolute in portraying this event as a watershed moment. The stark absence of Europe’s hockey giants raises pertinent questions about the validity of such claims.

The trajectory of Pakistan’s hockey prowess over the years reveals a disconcerting pattern. The tenure of Brig Khokhar, spanning since 2015, has coincided with a downward spiral in Pakistan’s global ranking. The team’s descent to a nadir, plummeting to the 18th rank, has been a stark departure from the promising standing at the onset of Khokhar’s presidency.

The narrative of qualification for prestigious events offers another layer of complexity. While the PHF touted Pakistan’s entry into the 2018 World Cup as a triumph, the reality is that an expansion in the number of participating teams played a pivotal role. The subsequent performance, concluding with a dismal 12th place finish, casts doubts on the true significance of this qualification.

Recent chapters in Pakistan’s hockey narrative further unravel the façade. A failure to qualify for the 2023 World Cup and a dismal performance in the 2021 Junior World Cup underscore the challenges haunting the national team. Equally alarming is the slide in key events such as the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, where Pakistan’s standing hit unprecedented lows.

The gravity of this situation is perhaps best encapsulated in the humiliating defeats against hockey powerhouses. The crushing 1-9 loss to Australia and the ignominious 1-7 and 1-6 defeats against India remain as stark reminders of the immense hurdles that Pakistani hockey faces.

Enclosed by this turbulent scenario, the PHF’s attempts to manipulate perceptions echo Abraham Lincoln’s adage: “You can fool all people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all people all of the time.” As the PHF’s grandiose claims face increasing scrutiny, a pressing need arises for introspection and concerted efforts to truly rejuvenate Pakistan’s hockey legacy.

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