Azlan Shah Performance Not Pakistan Hockey’s Revival but a Hope for Future

Wed May 15 2024
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Shahid Akhtar Hashmi

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The trumpets are out, praises were showered on the national hockey team, cash prizes were awarded and the Pakistan Hockey Federation is touted as the most efficient of any Federations.

The silver medal finish in the Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia is projected as the “renaissance of Pakistan Hockey.” No, it wasn’t the revival of Pakistan Hockey. A big NO. It is just the first step towards the revival of the national sport. Remember, the top nine teams viz the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Germany, England, India, Argentina, Spain and France were all not in Malaysia. New Zealand (world number ten), South Korea (12), hosts Malaysia (13) and Japan (15) were higher ranked than Pakistan (15).

It is heartening the way our players fared but their real mettle will be judged only after they face off against the top players of the world. Most of the top teams in rankings were busy in their preparation for the Paris Olympics 2024 which are scheduled for July-August this year. Pakistan’s fast-rising team will face a few of the European teams like world number nine France and number 14 South Africa in Gniezno, Poland from May 31 to June 9.

Befitting it was to finish with a silver medal in the Azlan Shah Hockey tournament. The young boys led by Ammad Butt enthralled the viewers who had long forgotten the national game. They were brought back to live streaming and PTV Sports. Impressive was their play. Our players looked the real part as they dribbled, their passing was perfect and most of the times they kept the possession of the ball adroitly, which is seen as the most virtuoso of the hockey tricks.

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Sufiyan Khan was declared “player of the tournament” which is an acknowledgement of the excellence our players exhibited. Pakistan’s penalty conversion also showed great improvement with eight goals in them. Sufiyan’s hat trick against a formidable Malaysia stood out. Pakistan beating South Korea by a healthy 4-0 margin and then outclassed Canada 5-4 showed their resilience which was missing in the past events. Drawing with Japan and New Zealand were also two good showings and that pitted Pakistan in the final against Japan. The Green Shirts had reached the final of Azlan Shah after a gap of 13 years which showed good progress.

But regretfully, as our Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans rightly pointed out, Pakistan missed two penalty corners and a good chance in the dying minutes to spurn a chance to win the final against Japan. Pakistan came back strongly to level the match at 1-1 while Japan made it all square at 2-2 to leave the game on a knife’s edge. It all went to a penalty shoot-out where Pakistan fell miserably short. It seemed our players were not prepared for this nervy shootout. Most of the players who were pitted against the Japanese goalie looked scared and nervous while our goalkeeper was also not in a positive frame of mind.

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How to build on Azlan Shah show:

The build-up to Azlan Shah was condemnable. Pakistan Hockey Federation was split into two factions, one led by Tariq Bugti and the other by parliamentarian Shehla Raza. One faction had Olympian Rana Mujahid as its secretary while the other faction had Haider Hussain as the second in command. Regretfully, both factions claimed to be genuine and true representatives of the national sport. They also held separate preparation camps and announced separate teams for Azlan Shah.

After a real tug of war, Pakistan Sports Board and the IPC allowed the Bugti faction to send its team to end the most sordid chapter of our national sport.

Now the question is how to build on this success? Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has announced PKR one million for each hockey player which is a great incentive and will motivate the players no end. But Pakistan hockey needs constant pumping of funds to lift its standard. The PM must address this and allocate funds for the Pakistan Hockey Federation.

But the buck doesn’t stop there. There needs to be accountability on how the funds are used. We all remember how the PPP government with its PM Yousuf Raza Gillani gave 1.3 billion PKR to PHF in 2008. But there was no accountability and there are reports that funds were misused.

Pakistan’s past in the game is resplendent with achievements. Pakistan is three times Olympic champions, four times world champions (most titles) and won the Asian Games Gold medal on eight occasions. This status can only be achieved through concerted and consistent efforts, accountability, honesty and hard work.

The success at Azlan Shah is just a drop of rain, a breath of fresh air and the first step. We have to build brick by brick and not relish at just one success.

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