Former greats and fans last Saturday (4) mourned the failure of Pakistan’s hockey team to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games, describing it the blackest day in the sport once dominated by the country.
Pakistan lost to outsiders Ireland 1-0 in a classification match at the World Hockey League in Antwerp, Belgium, a tournament which serves as a qualifying round for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Pakistan, a three-time Olympic gold medallist and four time world champion in the sport, needed to finish among the top five to harbour any hopes of a place in the Olympics, but lost to France 2-1 on Sunday to end up eighth and bottom of the points table.
Captain Mohammad Imran stepped down after the France game, following in the footsteps of the national selection committee, headed by chief selector Islahuddin Siddiqui, which also resigned from their posts after Pakistan’s dismal performance.
There were also unconfirmed reports that head coach and manager, Shahnaz Sheikh, had also tendered his resignation.
Former great Sami Ullah described the mishap as “the blackest day” in Pakistan hockey, regarded as the country’s national sport despite its obsession with cricket.
“We have ruled Pakistan hockey but this is the darkest moment in our national sport and we can’t mourn it less,” Sami, known as “flying horse” for his speed as a winger, said.
Sami said the signs were ominous since Pakistan failed to qualify for the World Cup last year and blamed Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF).
Pakistan’s last international title came in 1994 when they won the World Cup in Sydney.
They finished in last place at the 2010 World Cup held in India, and came eighth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics—their worst ever finish.
Another field hockey stalwart Shahbaz Ahmed also took a swipe at the country’s hockey officials.
“We must get rid of these officials who have been destroying the sport for the last several years,” Ahmed said.
“Alas, we used to cherish field hockey as our pride in international sports which is gone now but we must rebuild rather than mourn,” he added.
Waseem Feroze, Ahmed’s partner on the left wing when Pakistan won the 1994 World Cup, urged the government to put in place a new hockey federation.
“The hockey officials are incompetent and brought disaster on our national sport,” he said.
”(Prime minister) Sharif is the patron of our hockey so he must take notice and take measures to revive the game which we have ruled in the past,” said Basheer.
Fans on the street were also angry.
“This is a disaster for Pakistan hockey,” said Ishtiaq Khan, a shopkeeper in Karachi. “We used to follow hockey with pride but the game is dead now.”
Following the criticism, prime minister Nawaz Sharif, sought an explantation from the hockey federation and sports department for the poor performance.