If you are 90s kid and have enjoyed playing or seeing this game, you are on the same page with me. It was a game that gained utmost attention in the schools and colleges. However, by then, it was our national game and we learned much more about it in our classrooms and practiced that (even if we couldn’t play properly) in grounds. However, it is a sad reality that it only gained “attention” not popularity. Reason? A history of ignorance to our great hockey players, who were told – time and again – that you must play best to win the champion’s title as this is our national sport. In return? Please, accept our apologies, we must sponsor cricket.
“Play without a pay”, the authorities exclaimed.
Hockey is not a new sport, neither it won the champion’s trophy for the first time in 1990s. The team has been following their “game-spirit” since several decades whilst keeping the ignorance from authorities aside. And, they have been looking forward for “good days” for this sport and hoping that it would eventually be witnessed. Sadly, that didn’t happen, and that waiting has reached the tip of the iceberg of desperation, exaggeration, and hopelessness.
Today, we can’t imagine a cricket World Cup if Australia or England is not present. Similarly, a Football World Cup will have no essence if Brazil, Germany, or brazil are not playing. That’s the spirit of the civilized nations who cares for their national sport. The same case was with Pakistan in Hockey Championships or World Cups several decades back. Unfortunately, no more!
The Rise & Demise
Please, bear with me while I walk you through the crucial timeline of the Hockey’s rise and demise.
The first demise occurred in 1986, when the Pakistani team lost the World Cup held in England followed by another shock that in the 12th-team-event the position of our team was 11th. Now, since we know that it is just a stereotype that hockey had a huge set-back in the late 90s, let’s travel back to 1950s. At that time, hockey was not even our national sport, rather the national sport entitlement was undecided. How hockey made it through to achieve that title is a tale of pain and glory. Amid 1950s, both the cricket and hockey teams were giving their best to showcase the image of Pakistan in the world, as Pakistan just showed up in the world’s map. According to several sources, cricket – under the captainship of Mr. A. H. Kardar – was considered for the national sport entitlement due to the impressive results of that team. However, between 1958 and 1960, cricket’s glorified image started to plummet. It paved the way for hockey to grow, and that too without much budget contrary to cricket.
It is no-doubt obvious that hockey team showed utmost hard work and zeal when it participated in Rome Olympics in 1960 and marked a historical winning by defeating India. That was the first Olympic hockey title that our team brought home. Ignored of the further resources, the hockey team was trembling, because it was obvious that India, on the other hand, was investing heavily on their national sports “hockey”, and both were supposed to play finals in championships due the skillful players they had. In 1964, Pakistan lost by 1-0 from India in Tokyo Olympics.
1965 War – Who could think of hockey?
Again, the resources were ignored, and Pakistani hockey team was sent with “patriotic spirit” only to 1968 Olympics in Mexico, where it again proved the strength and won another Olympic title. This time, the world admired the skills of the team and it became the World’s #1 Team.
You can surely imagine the outburst of this fame, that International body even agreed to host the first ever hockey World Cup in Pakistan on the plea of chief of Pakistan Hockey, Nur Khan. At this time, the Pakistan was facing the political instability, but hockey team persistently retained on marching to keep the nations’ head held high in a World Cup in 1971. And, it won – bringing the first World Cup to Pakistan.
The radios were played in full volume. There was a subtle silence. People held their sips of tea in dhabas while listening to the commentary. Suddenly it was announced, “Pakistan defeated India by 2-0”
1971 War – The Pakistan Diva Noor Jehan’s songs resonated the hockey stadiums and players protested the heinous warfare and aggression by India.
The radios were played in full volume. There was a subtle silence. People held their sips of tea in dhabas while listening to the commentary. Suddenly it was announced, “Pakistan defeated India by 2-0”. People started pouring on to the streets – everyone, whether they were the fans of hockey or not, but it was a war-like-match. And, Hockey team made the country proud.
Due to crisis of East and West Pakistan, the Hockey team was rejoiced with traditional “shabaash” (encouragement), but based on resources, they were again ignored, and cricket team on the other hand were given more preference.
The result could be predictable. It lost the first ever Olympic game in Germany. However, it was a controversial game and the German team played rough and managed to secure a goal in last minutes. Although the Pakistan team cried foul, but the claim was rejected. The fans ran towards the ground and poured the buckets of water on the referee, and during ceremony, the Pakistan players ripped off their medals, which was broadcasted on the German TV, as well that scene where some hockey players were swirling their medals by their hockey sticks. It was a brave protest, but 11 players were banned for life. The Pakistani government appealed against this decision which was entertained, and the ban was reduced to only 3 years.
Experienced players are out for three-years? Who is prepared now?
Due to the limited resources, the other players were not that skillful. Although this inexperienced team tried to save its World Cup title, but due to the stiff competition by India in semi-final, the team lost by 1-0 in Netherlands.
In 1975, Pakistan lost again in Malaysia from Indians in finals. It is important to note that it was the second defeat in World Cup for Pakistan, and the first winning for Indians. This time, the Pakistani nation responded harshly and aggressively, and many smashed their TVs in anger.
We are just angry people, aren’t we? Why didn’t we protest for the resources that they were denied?
Again, the resources were not invested rather “patriotism” card was played. Therefore, Pakistani players pertained its patriotism, but due to limited training and resources, they lost their first ever Olympic game in 1956 in Montreal.
The Bhutto’s government realized it and started investing in the team and provided them the resources and budget they acquired. However, soon after the democratic government was out-thrown; political instability occurred again; but hockey team pertained their spirit. The result? After three year of not winning any major matches, it won the World Cup in 1978 followed by another Trophy Match in Lahore, where top 8 teams were invited.
The era of popularity of Hockey began in Pakistan. Pakistan boycotted the 1980’s Olympics in Russia, due to its invasion in Afghanistan. After that, it won the Olympic title in 1984. During the period of 1978-84, the Pakistani Hockey team brought home two World Cups, one Olympic gold medal, and two Champions Trophy – All in just six years of time.
AstroTurf became a brewing trouble. Although the team was good at playing in AstroTurf matches, still there were very limited AstroTurf grounds. The players usually had to practice on grass. When a young Pakistan hockey squad won the 1986 World Cup in England that was led by Hassan Sardar – the great maestro of this game. It was the time, when the press got active in to the issue of hockey. Shahid Ali Khan, the then goalkeeper, told the media about the implausible attitude on them by government. He further told that each player is paid only Rs. 27 for a whole match. Moreover, if they ask for increase, they are considered traitor.
After the democratic government of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the media pressed the governments to do something. The governments started taking attention and encouraged investors for this game and ordered for more AstroTurf grounds. The hockey gained a slight revival. In 1990, it made to the finals in 7th World Cup in Lahore, followed by the same position in 1991 Champions Trophy.
The players kept on struggling to attract the investors. With continuous momentum of dedication and hard work, the bragged the 4th World Cup title in 1994. However, that winning didn’t change anything – neither their salary was increased, nor the corporate companies developed any interest in investing on hockey. After 1994 till now, Pakistan hasn’t won any single World Cup; however, it bragged some Asian titles – not a major victory at all.
Hockey disappeared from all schools and now it’s just a “national sports” that like other “national heritages” has withered away.
Cricket on the other hand, who has just won only one World Cup has been receiving more luxuries. I am not asserting that it is wrong, or they should not be given attention, rather we should be focusing on Hockey on equality basis. This is the sport that shares more memories and passion with this nation. However, there is a difference between the era of 1994 and today. At that time, their salaries were low, and now, they are not paid at all.
Hold the hockey team accountable for losing, but let’s not talk about budget and resources; because, after all, it is a national sport, and the burden should be on the shoulders of the players: that’s what happened in the past, and that is how it should be. Let this national sport demise forever (pun intended).
The hockey players are in distress and the national sports is living its last breaths, and both the nation and the authorities are in denial – It is disgusting and delusional!