Islamabad: Expressing his dismay over Pakistan hockey team’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, legendary Olympian Shahnaz Sheikh on Monday urged Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is also the PHF patron, to intervene urgently so that the declining-and-dwindling national game is brought back on track.
After playing a nerve-racking 4-4 draw against the Netherlands on Saturday in the first match of the two-match Olympic qualifier in Amsterdam, Pakistan were crushed 6-1 by the hosts in the second game on Sunday. A few days earlier, Mohammad Rizwan Senior-led green-shirts faced 6-1 and 6-2 drubbings in two warm-up Tests against Germany in their backyard.
The humiliating loss in the Netherlands resulted in Pakistan’s ouster from next year’s Olympics. The country could not qualify for the 2016 Olympics too.
Speaking to Dawn, Shahnaz expressed his utter disappointment over what he called the patron’s unresponsive stance towards the national game which has faced alarming slide in recent years.
“Last year, when Imran Khan became the prime minister, sports fraternity of the country celebrated, thinking that that he would being positive change in sports sector, but to no avail,” Shahnaz regretted.
“It is unfortunate that field hockey in Pakistan could not get the attention it richly deserves due to its magnificent past. We now expect the patron will soon call an emergent meeting of the PHF and [former] Olympians so that some concrete steps for hockey’s improvement, which has been facing fast decline, can be taken,” he stated.
“Pakistan’s international ranking has slumped to 17, which is shameful and disgraceful for hockey lovers of the country,” Shahnaz said, adding that there is a need to start preparations on a war footing for the 2024 Olympics to be staged in Paris.
“It’s really very painful that the former three-time Olympic champions and four-time World Cup winners even could not even qualify for the Olympics, what to talk of winning medals!” he lamented.
“Pakistan have won as many as 23 gold medals, 17 silver and 14 bronze in major international events, like the Olympics, World Cup, Champions Trophy, Asian Games etc. However, now where we are standing? This is alarming,” Shahnaz said.
“Pakistan could not qualify for the Olympics for a second successive time, which shows that no lessons were learnt from the previous failure.
“After the first leg [against the Netherlands] when Pakistan stunned the hosts with a 4-4 draw, I was expecting a good fight from our team in the second leg. But [unfortunately] I was shocked to see the poor standard of the game exhibited by them [in the second match],” he said, and noted that the Dutch remained dominant throughout the second game with 60 per cent ball possession.
“They scored goals freely while the level of Pakistan’s goalkeeping was pathetic. At least three goals could have been saved with little effort from our keeper,” he opined.
The PHF decision last year of not sending the team to play the FIH Pro Hockey League, an opportunity to win direct qualification of Olympics, cost Pakistan dearly and that eventually resulted in the country missing the Tokyo Olympics, Shahnaz highlighted.
“Today, our team is ranked 17th. Had we participated in last year’s Pro League regardless of victory or defeat as participation in this event automatically provides ranking points, we would have ranked better, 11th or 12th,” he said and added in that case instead of facing the world No.3 Netherlands in the Olympic qualifier, Pakistan would have played against relatively easier opponents like Canada and Ireland.
Last year, the PHF out of the blue withdrew from the FIH Pro Hockey League citing ‘financial’ constraints.
The Olympian, who helped Pakistan win silver at the 1972 Munich Olympics, bronze at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and several gold medals at the Asian Games, said the national team after playing a tough draw against the Dutch in the first leg looked very lethargic in the second match, which he said signifies a poor physical fitness level. “There is a need to have special focus on the players’ physical fitness,” he remarked.
Noting that Pakistan up to the 2020 Olympics have no international engagements, Shahnaz emphasised the PHF during this period should look into how the domestic structure of the game could be improved.
“Field hockey, generally, is almost dead as now this is being played only in a few cities across Pakistan,” he said.
“The government and the PHF should develop academies to attract and provide better training to youth,” he said and urged sports should be made part of the education ministry so that hockey events could be regularly staged in educational institutions across the country.
The dejected player, however, said Pakistan could regain its glory in world hockey, if patronage is given by the government, PHF and former Olympians. “Hockey is in our blood, the young lot needs training, care and proper patronage.”
Meanwhile, responding to a question on his possible role in the incumbent PHF, Shahnaz said recently he was offered the position of the federation’s spokesperson, which he declined.