Mumbai: The multi-million dollar World Series Hockey (WSH) tournament could provide a much-needed boost to the sport in the country and make the national side a force to reckon with in the future, feels Pakistan hockey legend Shahbaz Ahmed.
"WSH will encourage youngsters to play hockey. If you increase quantity then it is easier to find quality also. It will give boost to Indian hockey. With the exposure to the WSH, Indian team can be stronger in one or two years` time," said Shabaz.
Hailing the series as a great initiative, the former Pakistani ace, who is based in the Arabian Gulf and is here in connection with the tournament, said it also lets players make some money on the lines of cricket.
"Due to the cricket (frenzy), hockey is getting neglected in India and Pakistan. Cricket has almost become an industry because lot of money and sponsors are involved in it. That way, it (WSH) is a great initiative," said the 43-year-old former captain of Pakistan.
Shahbbaz, a two-time Man of the Tournament in the World Cups of 1990 in Lahore and 1994 in Sydney where Pakistan clinched the gold, pleaded with the International Hockey Federation (FIH), to give recognition to the tournament as it was not damaging, but promoting, the game.
"I would request FIH to recognise it and support it because it is promoting hockey. It is not damaging the sport. The players are getting both recognition and popularity."
He did not see the possibility of the senior Pakistan players facing a ban due to their participation in the WSH.
"I don`t think it will damage anybody`s career. Pakistan Federation has already taken a decision not to include senior players in the Olympic side. It will acknowledge (these players) may be after the Olympics."
Top Pakistan players like Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi, Zeeshan Ashraf, Mohammad Imran, Waseem Ahmed and Imran Warsi are taking part in the ongoing WSH.
Shabaz, the 1994 World Cup-winning captain and a bronze medal winner in the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, feels the possibility of India and Pakistan winning any medal in this year`s London Olympic Games is remote.
"If we talk about the reality, I don`t think India or Pakistan will reach the top 16. If you see the team on paper, if you see the work by players, the arrangement for Olympic Games it is just ordinary. With this kind of set-up, you cannot fight in the Olympics," he said.
According to the all-time great, senior players like Adnan Maqsood, Rehan Butt and Zeeshan Ashraf can continue to play the game at the top level for probably another year.
He blamed the "parallel federations" in the two countries for the downfall of the game and wanted them to sink their differences and come together for the good of the game.
"Both India and Pakistan are going on a downward streak currently. I personally think in any country if you run two parallel federations, you will destroy hockey. These people should stick together for the revival of hockey, for the promotion of the game and give it a right direction," he said.
He further said that the political scenario prevailing in Pakistan was affecting the sport.
"We have some internal issues in Pakistan because of political reasons and that is why hockey is suffering. We should appoint people on merit. The players are talented enough. We need to find people who are focused.
"If we appoint coaches, they should have proved themselves. We also need people in administration who can give the right direction. A set up of this kind can revive the game," he observed.