LAHORE: The Hockey World Cup will be held from January 13 to 29, 2023 in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar and Rourkela in India. This is the second time Odisha is hosting the prestigious quadrennial hockey tournament, making it the only Indian state to host back-to-back FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup. It is so unfortunate and lamentable that former world champions Pakistan couldn’t get a place in the 16-team global event and missed out on their second World Cup after 2014. To qualify for the World Cup 2023, Pakistan needed to reach the semifinals of the Asia Cup held in May 2022 in Jakarta, Indonesia. But the Green Shirts ended at the fifth spot above Bangladesh, Oman and hosts Indonesia. The 11th Asia Cup in the Indonesian capital had dual importance. On the one hand, the quadrennial event was a title tournament, as it decided the Asian champions for the next four years. On the other, it also served as the qualifier for the World Cup 2023.
For the World Cup 2023, the host nation India received automatic qualification while Japan, Malaysia and South Korea qualified after ending among top four of the Asia Cup 2022. Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallists and defending champions Belgium, England, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain finished in the top five of the 2021 EuroHockey Championship to confirm their qualification. Two more European nations, France and Wales also earned their spots through the continental qualifier. While Argentina and Chile qualified from the Americas region, South Africa will be the only African nation at the main event in India. Since Oceania could not hold a qualifying event, Australia and New Zealand made the cut from the region based on the world hockey rankings. The final 16 participating teams are India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Belgium, England, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, France, Wales, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The major causes of decline of Pakistan hockey are multifarious. Hockey is no longer a game of choice for youth and concerned parents in Pakistan. School and college level hockey has diminished from the country. Cricket, with better financial rewards and glamour, has slowly replaced hockey in schools and colleges. Unlike cricketers, the financial status of hockey players is quite low. Pakistan hockey structure lacks in terms of skills and competitiveness. The very base of the game has shrunk beyond belief. The government and private sector’s apathy towards the national sport and giving more importance to cricket is another big factor. For the last two decades, the government has done nothing seriously for promotion of the national sport of the country.
Like the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Pakistan’s World Cup omission is tragic. For a country that has won three Olympic golds and a record four World Cup titles, missing out on back-to-back Olympic Games and two World Cups is nothing less than a catastrophe. Pakistan has suffered a shocking and continuous decline from being consistently among the top four to languishing at 18th in the latest world rankings. It was Pakistan that floated the idea of a Hockey World Cup in the late 1960s. Pakistan also presented the magnificent World Cup trophy. More importantly, Pakistan has won the World Cup four times, more than any other nation. In 2014, when they first failed to qualify for the World Cup, there were 12 slots. The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) had bragged about managing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after failing to do so at the previous edition in 2014. It is interesting to note that Pakistan’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup was entirely down to the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) decision to increase the number of participating teams from 12 to 16. And how did Pakistan fare at the 2018 World Cup? The Green Shirts finished 12th, thus equalling their worst-ever finish. They scored just two goals, their lowest World Cup tally, with a goal difference of 10 from their previous worst.
The agonising reality is that Pakistan hockey has acquired a ‘loser’ image in world hockey and become a synonym for defeat, mediocrity and failure. It is now the Sick Man of global hockey and it’s incorrigible and confirmed Pauper. It has reached its nadir. Pakistan hockey’s slump is not quite as dramatic or sudden as it now seems to be. It’s been a slow and painful decline that began after 1994. The major causes of decline of Pakistan hockey are multifarious. Hockey is no longer a game of choice for youth and concerned parents in Pakistan. School and college level hockey has diminished from the country. Cricket, with better financial rewards and glamour, has slowly replaced hockey in schools and colleges. Unlike cricketers, the financial status of hockey players is quite low. Pakistan hockey structure lacks in terms of skills and competitiveness. The very base of the game has shrunk beyond belief. The government and private sector’s apathy towards the national sport and giving more importance to cricket is another big factor. For the last two decades, the government has done nothing seriously for promotion of the national sport of the country. Lack of media attention is another reason, as hardly any channel in Pakistan discusses the issues related to hockey due to domination of cricket. With the modern changes in the requirements of the game, Pakistan has not been able to compete with the fast pace of changing rules. There are no modern and foreign coaches for Pakistan hockey. Our failure to adapt with modern hockey has affected us a lot. And above all, the incompetency, lack of planning, unprofessionalism of the Pakistan Hockey Federation along with inconsistent policies have destroyed the very fabric of hockey.
Pakistan hockey needs adequate hockey activities at early level which is only possible by evolving a system which could ensure that hockey gets due attention among the youth. Pakistan was a fantastic hockey nation for decades and ruled at international level by virtue of their talent and skills and now we are struggling to make our mark at the highest level of the game. To rise above again, Pakistan hockey requires strong financial backup, commitment and self-belief. Only hard and incessant efforts lead to success. In the absence of these, we should not dream of reaching skies. It is so painful that country’s national sport, having so much pride and passion, has gone to the dogs.
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