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HOCKEY IN PAKISTAN


The history of Pakistan Hockey is as old as that of the country
itself. This was the second team game in which the newly born
independent sovereign state made its international debut. A team
led by the late Ali lqtedar Shah Dara represented Pakistan in the
first Post-War Olympic Hockey Tournament held in London in 1948.
Pakistan lost in the play-off for the bronze medal between the
losing semifinalists. The same fate met the Pakistan team led by
fullback Niaz Khan in the 1952 Olympic Hockey Tournament in
Helsinki.

The failure to win even a bronze medal in two successive Olympic
contests made the hockey organisers in Pakistan put on their
thinking caps. An inquiry committee was set up by the authorities
in Pakistan with a senior ICS Officer, Riazuddin Ahmed, as the
Convener. The mandate of this probe body was to analyse the cause
of the failures in the past and, if possible, to suggest ways and
means to improve the game and bring it up to the required
international standard. The findings of the inquiry Committee
were embodied in a report which came to be regarded as the
Blueprint of Pakistan Hockey in the years that followed. The
proposals in the said Report were implemented and followed with
religious dedication. This resulted in Pakistan defying the jinx
and reaching the final of the 1956 Olympic Hockey Tournament in
Melbourne (Australia).

Although Pakistan won only the silver medal, she had achieved
international recognition as a serious challenger to India’s
supremacy as the world leaders in the game. Thereafter Pakistan
never looked back and went from strength to strength, setting up
new records and milestones enroute to the top.

Between 1956 and 1986, Pakistan recorded unprecedented feats
which are still unmatched. Thrice during this period of three
decades Pakistan won the Olympic and World Cup crowns. The Asian
Games title was won six times and the Champions Trophy in the
first two years of its inauguration. Twice Pakistan held three of
the world’s most prestigious titles at the same time – the Asian,
Olympic and World Cup crowns. No other hockey playing country has
achieved this feat in the history of the game so far.

Came 1986. the year when two of the three coveted titles were at
stake. Within three weeks Pakistan lost both the Asian Games and
the World Cup titles. With India dropping out in the race for top
global honours, Pakistan was the lone standard-bearer of Asian
Hockey. Quite a few of the great players who donned the green
Pakistani shirts had retired or been forced to quit. Thus the
teams that went to Seoul for the tenth Asiad and London for the
World Cup were deplorably weak. South Korea, the hosts, snatched
the Asian games title from Pakistan, a crown she had held since
1970. A team which had lost to Pakistan by ten goals in the ninth
Asiad at Delhi four years ago beat Pakistan 2-1 in the final to
claim the gold medal and the coveted title. About a fortnight
later, Pakistan met much tougher opposition in the World Cup
staged in London. Her performance was abysmally dismal. The
holders finished second from the bottom, just one rung ahead of
India, in a twelve nation contest, It was the irony of fate that
the two top teams from Asia who used to fight out for the two top
positions in international tournaments not long ago had to play
off for the last two places in the 1986 World Cup.

Those
humiliating defeats and the loss of two prestigious titles sent a
shock wave among the entire nation. This in turn started a wave
of indignation against the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).
There was a general demand for urgent punitive action against
those who had brought about the two debacles at Seoul and London.
History thus repeated itself after nearly three decades when a
high-level Inquiry Committee was set tip with Mr. Riazuddin Ahmad
against as its Chairman. As was the case in 1953-54, the mandate
of the seven-member Inquiry Committee was to ascertain the causes
of the dismal debacles and, if, possible. propose remedial
measures for eradicating the weaknesses in Pakistan’s hockey with
a view to prepare a strong team for defending the Olympic title.”
At the start of the Olympic year (1988), the Pakistan Hockey
Federation was engrossed in a race against time to train and
groom a world-beating team, not only to retain the coveted
Olympic crown but also to place Pakistan back at its high perch
in world rankings.

Pakistan’s fortune in field hockey for men have fluctuated during
the period under review. It goes without saying that no one
remains oil top all the time – with four World Cup victories and
three Olympic gold plus the same number of victories in the
Champions Trophy contests to her credit during the past fifty
years of her history as an independent sovereign state, Pakistan
has remained among the top four hockey playing nations of the
world. In fact, her record in the four major contests of the
world (World Cup, Olympic Games, Asian Games & Champions Trophy)
has not even been equalled leave alone surpassed.

Pakistan has held more than two of these four times
simultaneously more often than any other leading hockey playing
nation like Australia, Germany, Holland or even neighbours India.
But with the retirement of a good many of stars and, of course,
the closing up of the gap between the best and the next best, no
other country has shown any consistency at the international
level. All such contests thus remain an open race.

Pakistan’s two attempts to regain Olympic glory failed during the
period under review. Pakistan could only win a bronze at the 1992
Barcelona Olympics but failed to improve on that performance at
Atlanta four years later. This was because Pakistan’s hockey was
in a turmoil at home. Twenty four of the 33 under canvas awaiting
final trials and selection to undertake the trials and until all
their demands were met. The rebellion of the “gand of 24” was
master-minded by no less a player than former captain star
forward, Shahbaz Ahmed. The issue took an unprecedented turn and
had to be referred to the Selection Committee on Sports, Culture
and Tourims. This was perhaps the ugliest chapter in the history
of Pakistan’s hockey.

Shahbaz
Ahmed was finally blown to Atlanta and diplomatic pressure was
used to have been included in the Pakistan’s Olympic squad at the
eleventh hour. The Pakistan’s team final phase of training and
preparation to recapture Olympic glory was thus very badly
effected the team that was exported to Atlanta was ill-balanced
and under-trained for the tough task that lay ahead. As expected,
Pakistan failed to mount the Hockey Stand and returned home
without even a bronze, finishing sixth in a 12-nation contest

Pakistan’s record in the World Cup contests during the past six
years has not been too bad. Lahore was the venue of the seventh
World Cup tournament for the first time in 1990. Those who said
that Pakistan had built a “white elephant” called the Lahore
Hockey Stadium with a seating capacity of 50,000 spectators had
to eat their words when as many as 60,000- plus thronged the
spacious Stadium to witness in Pakistan-Australia semi-final
which Pakistan won and the Pakistan – Holland final which
Pakistan lost.

Pakistan improved on that performance and avenged that defeat by
beating Holland in the final of the next World Cup contest staged
in Sydney in 1994. Thus Pakistan won the World Cup for the fourth
time since its inception in 1971. This is a feat which no other
member country of the FIH has recorded so far. It is the only
major title Pakistan holds currently.

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