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A dismal year for the national game

ABSENCE from inaugural FIH Pro League, failing to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, turmoil at home, allegations of corruption and lack of vision surrounded Pakistan hockey as incumbent PHF chief retired Brig Khalid Sajjad Khokhar played gimmick, first by sending PHF secretary Shahbaz Sr. home and bringing Asif Bajwa for the second time and later silencing the critics by inducting them into the fold. It can be described as “year of miseries”.

By keeping mum instead of reprimanding and sending PHF hierarchy home for Pakistan’s slump to its worst-ever 17th ranking in the world, former Test cricketer-turned Prime Minister Imran Khan’s silence deeply pertaining to national game annoyed the nation.

The nation is paying for what Khokhar and Shahbaz have collectively sowed despite “enormous funding”. The money was allegedly wasted due to ill planning.

According to last five years (2014-15 to 2018-19) figures available with Dawn, the government had doled out Rs420,422,790 to the PHF which include annual and special grants besides grants on the PM/President directives. After reports of alleged corruption in the press, the government didn’t release any funding to PHF in 2018-19. The federal government grant is besides the Sindh Chief Minister’s financial support to the tune of millions of rupees to the PHF.

The hockey fraternity has not mentally recovered from shock of missing the Rio Olympics when they received yet another bad news that Pakistan hockey team won’t be able to compete at Tokyo Games. Alas! A nation that has ruled the world hockey is now among the also-rans.

The country received first shock of the year on Jan 24th when the FIH suspended Pakistan from the inaugural Pro Hockey League after they couldn’t compete due to a paucity of funding.

Shahbaz, who had resigned on Dec 30, 2018 citing government’s apathy, resumed charge as PHF secretary on Feb 7 and Khokhar said ‘he had not accepted his resignation’.

It is pertinent to mention that Shahbaz in his resignation had said: “If government had no time to look into hockey affairs then he too had no time for the same.”

In Shahbaz’s absence, 1984 Olympic gold medallist Ayaz Mahmood and the PHF treasurer Ikhlaq Usmani worked on ad-hoc basis.

Five days after resuming power, the 1994 World Cup-winning captain offered olive branch to the critics of the game but to no avail as 10 former Olympians on April 8 again urged PM to sack PHF. The 10 ex-Olympians include Manzoor Hussain Jr, K. M. Junaid, Khalid Bashir, Hanif Khan, Waseem Feroz, Saleem Nazim, Tariq Aziz, Col Mudassir Asghar, Naveed Alam and Mohammad Saqlain.

On May 4, Khokhar dropped a bombshell by appointing former Olympian Asif Bajwa as new PHF secretary for second time by accepting Shahbaz’s resignation. It may be mentioned that Bajwa had earlier served under successive PHF chiefs namely Gen Asiz, Qasim Zia and Akhtar Rasool from 2013 to 2018.

Bajwa, who took over on May 6, had said in his opening statement: “Don’t expect miracles at 2020 Olympics.” It is quite interesting to note that Khokhar had targeted Tokyo in 2016 after being elected as the PHF chief.

The appointment of Bajwa raised quite a few eyebrows indicating that no other sane person was available in the country then to reappoint a person on an important post on which he had already served.

His reappointment coincided with imposition of heavy cash penalty of $190,000 on PHF by the FIH for not fulfilling its commitment and backing out from the Pro Hockey League. It was announced that Pakistan’s fate will be decided in FIH disciplinary committee meeting in June.

According to Bajwa, backdoor diplomacy with Argentina, Holland and New Zealand counterparts in the disciplinary case before FIH produced positive results and the PHF managed to reduce penalty from $190,000 to $80,000 with bright chances of getting FIH nod to compete in 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers. Pakistan had requested the three countries against whom it had to play Pro league, to withdraw their claims.

The PHF secretary said the FIH could fine $100,000 but it reduced it to half ($50,000) with the instructions to use the remaining on grassroots activities

Khokhar explained Pakistan’s position of withdrawal from Pro League before FIH disciplinary committee at Lausanne where he was asked to pay $50,000 in three installments. After paying first installment of $17,500, Pakistan was drawn to play two matches against world No three Holland on their soil and had to win the both for a getting a ticket to Tokyo.

In back-to-back meetings held at Islamabad midway through the year, National Assembly Standing Committee on Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) slammed PHF for national team woes while the Senate panel of parliamentarian on recommendations of its three-member sub-committee report called for immediately sacking of PHF president and secretary.

While Bajwa got vote of confidence from PHF Congress at Abdul Sattar Edhi Hockey Stadium on July 23 Khokhar refused to resign by taking responsibility of Pakistan’s consistent decline.

Manzoor Jr who was appointed chief selector said he will prepare a healthy pool of players with an eye on 2022 Asian Games and 2024 Olympics. The co-selectord include Ayaz Mahmood, Waseem Feroz and Khalid Hameed The committee was extended with the induction of Kaleemullah and Naasir Ali. K. M. Junaid was brought in as head coach with Waseem Ahmed, Sameer Hussain and Ajmal Khan his deputies.

A little earlier Dr Junaid Ali Shah and Haider Hussain’s Karachi Hockey Association (KHA) for the second time in four years was declared ‘legitimate’ body by the PHF. Both of them were allowed to represent Karachi/Sindh in PHF Congress.

Fast emerging Oman hockey team visited the country in Oct and played matches against PHF Development squad at Lahore.

The greenshirts, led by Rizwan Sr, left for Germany on way to Holland to play Olympic qualifiers in October. Germany outplayed Pakistan 6-1 and 6-2 in the first and second preparatory Tests respectively at Mochangladbatch.

A rejuvenated Pakistan held Holland to four-all in the first of the two Olympic qualifying matches in Amsterdam on Oct 26 but the greenshirts were thrashed by the Dutch 6-1 in the second game the following day that dashed their Tokyo hopes.

In a first of its kind incident, noted Olympian Islahuddin Siddiqui returned to Sindh government unused grant of Rs20m with profit. “I’m returning Rs27,614,326.31 through cheque,” he told a press conference at Karachi Press Club on Nov 23.

It may be mentioned that the grant was given to him for his Academy in North Nazimabad in 2014 but remained unused and he was asked to returned it with profit.

National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) defeated Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) 5-4 on penalty shootout after being tied one-all in regulation time to win the national title for an overall fifth time. The 65th National Hockey Championship was dedicated to one of the greatest sports administrator retired Air Marshal Nur Khan.

Obituaries: Eminent Olympians retired Brig Abdul Hamid ‘Hamidi’, Khawaja Mohammad Aslam, goalkeeper Zakir Hussain.

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