The National senior championship event that has been recently established as a means to promote Pakistan’s national sport across the country. Dubbed as the hockey carnival of the nation, this is an event where teams of various departments and provinces compete with one another showcasing their most talented players, providing ample opportunities for top talent recruitment for the national team. Because of this, the hockey league is immensely competitive and all departments and regional teams select their best players in this well sponsored and funded event.
Playing professional hockey has always been my dream. I first found my passion for the national sport while I was at school, after which I dreamt of participating at the national level. My first breakthrough came when I got accepted into the NBP junior team in the National Junior Championship event in 2000 after my schooling years.
When I stepped my foot into professional hockey, my eyes were set at joining the NBP senior team, which I thought was going to be difficult. Fortunately, my dream came true when some of my batch mates and I were selected for the 1 month bank camp in Gojra and Lahore in 2001
There we were blessed to be around the company of some of the greatest hockey players of Pakistan, including Tahir Zaman, Rana Mujahid, Khawar Javed, Ahmed Khan, and Nadeem ND. My friends and I were simply trying to secure a place in the team as 17th and 18th player positions. This was so that we would get a chance to improve and cultivate our skills by being in constant supervision and guidance of senior and more experienced players.
After a while I finally got properly accepted into the team and played proper professional hockey. Playing alongside some of the most experienced and skilled hockey players was a golden opportunity. They not only supported me, but also gave me the confidence to play up to my potential that helped push my hockey career forward.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of playing professional hockey was discipline. All hockey activities from trainings and rest periods for meetings and social events took place between morning and evening that provided the right atmosphere for building focus and training.
By spending a little over 6 weeks, I began to witness a significant improvement in myself. I, along with others, got a good daily allowance, stayed in 4-star hotels, and benefitted from various other benefits that helped me relax mentally and pursue my career in hockey with greater commitment. Lately, I received positive feedback for my performances in championship events and also got selected for the national camp, followed by the Pakistani Jr. Hockey team, after which my career reached greater heights.
My positive career in hockey is relevant for highlighting the importance of the National Senior Hockey Championship event for new players. If any federation failed to organize a hockey event properly, then they will fail to develop hockey talent that can be the drivers of our national sport in the future. Nowadays, the National Senior Hockey Championship event has more or less become a ‘khana-poori’ event in the calendar of Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).
The event’s new federation has played such a crucial and positive role in changing the unprofessional system and structure of Pakistan Hockey to produce real talent for the future. One of their main contributions was introducing a quality and advanced coaching program that will ensure hockey training is executed and conducted only by qualified hockey coaches to meet high and professional game standards, and also brings the qualified GK Coach Salman Akber for the Goal keeper’s development program, and after a few months he quietly resigned due to PHF unprofessional attitude.
Although the idea was well-thought out, it wasn’t implemented properly and ended up becoming another slogan. In the Azlan Shah Hockey Cup, the federation takes a large number of people for coaching and umpiring courses that do not add up to anything beneficial.
I’m utterly disappointed with this non-serious management and cannot understand why this takes place. This is one of the reasons why the national sport of Hockey is losing interest among the younger generation day by day, causing many departments to disband their hockey teams, ending the careers of highly talented hockey players.
In this opportune time for developing future talent, the federation acted very irresponsibly and set a very bad precedent for professional hockey in our country. They organized a National Championship event that failed to fulfill any real objectives. In this event, many departments had set up their training camps for players to participate in the event and had also spent a large sum of money. However, due to poor event management, each team only played 2 games and any team that failed to qualify was asked to pack their bags and go back home.
The question is how else will upcoming players be attracted and motivated to make a career in hockey if such antics occur? Honestly, is there a point in spending a substantial amount of money if players per team only get to play only 2 games? Most important of all, how can the federation expect team sponsors to recruit players if the event is not made competitive enough to encourage talent recruitment for successive games?
There is no doubt that we are wasting good Hockey talent for our future and instead of taking serious measures to correct the problem, we are playing blame games.
One of the most unprofessional decisions taken by the federation was that they changed the draws that were not balanced. Also, they made a few changes to the event to accommodate a hockey player’s wedding reception. Furthermore, members of the federation along with other team participants travelled to other cities that were far from Lahore and got back just in time to play the match/team training the following day. Is this the example we are setting for upcoming players and officials in the professional hockey?
Discipline is the cornerstone of professionalism, but where does that leave us? The second major blunder committed by the federation was regarding the Malaysian Hockey League. PHF changed the draws in order to make the championship event shorter since a lot of players were participating in the tournament. This only showed that the federation does not have any serious concern about sustaining interest in the game of hockey or for nurturing talent for the future.
Video referrals failed to bring about any viable outcome in the recent championship event. Video referrals took more than 3 minutes for each appeal and failed to make a good decision. This not only showed the extent of our unprofessionalism towards the sport, but also slowed down the momentum of the match that only made the match unexciting and boring to watch for spectators.
The entry fee for each team was 1.5 Lac rupees that was embarrassingly low considering that the PHF did not give out any medal or trophies for the team winning 3rd Position. There is only a trophy for the Champions and the runners up but no other prize or medals for anyone else.
FIH Champions Trophy 2016
Pakistan got out from the recent World Cup and Olympics that led to a dramatic fall in their international ranking also in part due to the lack of participation in FIH events. The PHF, unfortunately, does not have any well thought-out plans to close this gap and increase the competitiveness of our national team.
Fortunately, Pakistan was invited to participate in the last champions trophy, which was a great opportunity to score around 150 participation points. This could have been a excellent for helping the team reverse their poor international ranking and along with giving the players tremendous exposure and confidence in being able to play against top teams. Had Pakistan participated in the event, it could have easily secured the top 3rd Position, to say the least.
Why? Because due to Olympic Champions Trophy wasn’t in the program of so many teams, and because of that these teams do not take this event as seriously and simply show up to London without any proper preparation and after seeing few games of champions trophy is quite obvious Pakistan can finish in top position and can improve their ranking, as Pakistan Team always play to win events we never participate for experiments and development procedures.
The PHF could have used this opportunity to try new players or experiment with different match tactics to gauge how well the team performs under different settings. However, the PHF declined the invitation by the FIH and decided not to participate in the 2016 event in order to save themselves the scrutiny of the team’s poor performance.
Ranking and team development aside, Pakistan should have participated in the Champions Trophy seeing that the country is one of the founders of the event. There is no question that the PHF was afraid of facing another major defeat, despite the fact that the team had lost in two major hockey tournaments in quick succession; as such, there was nothing to be afraid of losing.
But, in lieu of the unprofessional system of the PHF, the officials became concerned at the thought of people raising questions about the national team’s performance and blame being casted onto them. Since they could not handle such accountability, they decided not to induct Pakistani team in the event.
Junior World Cup 2016
There was little doubt about how well the Pakistani Junior hockey team had been practicing for the past 12 months, in addition to giving an excellent performance in multiple tournaments prior to the Junior World Cup. Under the supervision and guidance of Head Coach Mr. Tahir Zaman, the team had been doing surprisingly well within a short space of time. During these past few months, the players developed a strong team spirit and bonding and despite not reaching the top standard, they still exhibited a substantial improvement as hockey players.
All they were in need of was some international exposure to polish their skills and discover other areas of improvement. The PHF had a plan to organize a European tour that would give the national team to play against European teams and spend between 2 and 3 weeks in camp training. Despite the good intentions of the federation, the plan never came to fruition, as it was not executed properly.
Changes to the plan were made, owing to a scheduling conflict as a result of a Chief of Army Staff hockey tournament. Due to this, the PHF lost sight of their priorities and emphasized the importance of a local event at the expense of an international tour.
A short while after this, the Pakistani Junior Team was not able to participate in the Junior World Cup due to the refusal of the Indian government to issue visas to Pakistani hockey team players. But, instead of admitting their mistakes, the officials of the federation took advantage of the situation by putting all the blame on the Indian government for their Junior team’s lack of international exposure.
And since Indo-Pak ties often get sensationalized by our media, it was not difficult for the federation to cast blame on anyone but themselves for their poor decision making and lack of serious attitude. I guess we all owe the federation officials a big debt of gratitude and salute for bashing the Indians on television and scoring political points. The fact of the matter is that the federation was able to cover the root causes of the junior hockey team’s lack of international exposure – their own unprofessional attitude towards the game.
Honestly, is this the state of our national sports federation where it is better to waste our energy and time impressing our bosses in order to secure our jobs, but not executing future plans to develop our hockey team players?
The federation should have anticipated this and taken out the time to submit an appeal and do all the paperwork necessary to strengthen their case. However, PHF neglected three FIH warnings and did not submit the required papers. During this time, the FIH asked the Malaysian Federation and those of other countries to fulfill the replacement. In contrast, the Malaysian Federation took advantage of this by submitting the required paper within 48 hours and obtained the visas for their hockey players to participate in the World Cup.
After this blander PFH said we will take this matter very seriously and they will bring this matter to the court, after so called consulting they decided to be quiet………………………..
When the Legends in charge of the federation first took their jobs, they used many slogans and promises to bring change to uplift the national sport from unprofessionalism. However, all ended up in vain and we are still in the same situation without any optimism for true change or progress.
The coaching system is one example where PHF failed to live up to its promises. For example, apart from the fact that Khwaja Junaid was appointed as head coach, the federation, brought a retired army serviceman, Lt. Co. Mohsin Ali, as assistant coach or manager, Mr. Hanif Khan as camp commandant plus manager, and Ahmed Alam as GK coach.
I still do not understand why you need different levels of coaches or what these different coach titles are supposed to mean for the management. The interesting thing is that the PHF boss did not buy the idea of having a strength and conditioning coach as he instructed the players, during the Asian Champions Trophy, that all players need to work hard on their like how they used to in their time.
What really perplexes me is why retired army servicemen are being hired to do the job of a professional hockey manager or coach. I guess this only shows how our hockey federation is riddled with favoritism, something that resonates with our country’s political system.
The people who are aware of the federation can easily spot the problems in the management. How can you expect hockey players to take an interest in the game or for the team to have a consistent skills development and training system when the head coach instructs one player to be substituted for another, the Chief coach says to replace everyone except that player, or when the goal keeper is neglected by the coach because he has been coached by someone else in the past or when the new captain is forced to sit on the bench because he is not a favorite of another coach.
The fact of the matter is that there are many coaches with their different approach, each of whom have considerable authority to dictate and decide who should substitute and who should not. The worst part, of course, is that each coach has their favorite and any selection and induction of players happens through tribal customs.
This only creates a stress environment of players and makes them lose confidence and hope for seeing themselves grow in the sport and take the national sport to international level. It is no surprise then that Mr. Khawaja struggled to manage his own team.
We all need to reflect on our own problems and take steps to promote transparency and team spirit of the game. If the players cannot bond well and fail to perform as part of a team, then what does this say about the management’s responsibility to provide a strong playing atmosphere and core value system? The reality is that we are too busy casting blame on one another and fail to acknowledge our own mistakes.
I always say ‘attitude is everything’ and if this is the attitude of the people in charge, then there is no doubt that we haven’t learnt anything from our mistakes. Should this continue, we will never be able to progress in our own national sport.
Another point to reflect about is that foreign coaches will always bring their own team, such as video analyst professional, GK coach, physiotherapist, and so on. Have you wondered why this is the case? I will leave you to think about it. But you should know that that the national senior team has no physiotherapist no strength and conditioning coach and team is participating in the international events with someone’s friend Oh I mean DOCTOR (I already explained doctor role in Pak hockey in my pervious Blog).
Freedom of Speech
Our federation also has issues with people who voice their opinions for accountability. Recently, the former hockey player and legend Waseem Ahmed raised some questions during a national championship event highlighting the problems of favoritism in PHF. Soon after, he received a notice and got banned to sit on the team bench of his departmental team during the championship event and had to take permission from PHF to allow him to serve as coach for a foreign country hockey Club.
Now that was harsh! Waseem Ahmed recently became a FIH high performance coach and also got recommended for the next stage of FIH high performance coaching, along with serving as a coach for the Australian hockey club.
My complaint is why did the federation behave in such manner? This is not the first time it has happened with a high-ranking former hockey player. On the contrary, we have seen this happen with various other players and former players. The PHF, instead of being open to criticism, acts in a dictatorial fashion by shutting any mention of public scrutiny. PHF, in the past, have sent notices to various department officials to set an example for others never to open their mouths against them.
Unfortunately, this method is working on keeping the sport of hockey infested with favoritism and unprofessionalism. This is why in lieu of these systemic problems, I can only appeal to the government of Pakistan to introduce institutional level changes to rid the federation of incompetence and make hockey a pride of our nation.