Former hockey players criticise poor show in Azlan Shah

Karachi: The disappointing performance of Pakistan in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh has come under sharp criticism from former players and administrators who wondered what fate awaits the team in the London Olympic Games.

Pakistan, under new captain Sohail Abbas, finished at the bottom of the points table in the tournament and they leave for a tough European tour just two days after reaching home on Monday.

"It is shameful the way the team performed. We have been saying for months now the present Pakistan Hockey Federation officials are damaging Pakistan hockey with their policies," former Olympian Shahnaz Sheikh said.

Pakistan, who had several junior players in their ranks, won just a game against Argentina 4-2 and were then whipped by Malaysia, Korea, India, New Zealand and England in their remaining matches.

The PHF has said that the Azlan Shah Cup and the European tour would be the final preparatory tournaments for the Olympics.

But already the PHF`s decision to part ways with Dutch coach Michel Van Den just months before the Olympics over basically monetary issues has been seen as a disastrous one.

"Once they had brought in a foreign coach it was a disaster to let him go months before the Olympics for which purpose he was hired in the first place. In his case, some of the PHF officials let their egos rule over their minds," former Olympian Samiullah said.

The Dutch coach had guided Pakistan to their first Asian Games title in 20 years in 2010 and later guided the team to a title win in an invitational tournament in Australia.

But after these encouraging results, the PHF, in a surprising move, decided to sideline some seniors including Rehan Butt and Zeeshan Ashraf.

More problems followed when dispute arose on the issue of players not being paid their contractual fees on time and more importantly the PHF failed in persuading some seniors from going to India for the unsanctioned World Series Hockey.

A senior official in the PHF said while it was convenient to blame the federation for every loss it was a fact that many of the present lot of players had a tendency to create groupings in the team and that affected on the performance.

"We tried to clean things up but with the Olympics round the corner it is a difficult time for us," he said.

Pakistan team`s manager Khawaja Junaid, who was named coach after Van Den`s departure, said the team had not fared well in the Azlan Shah because of the presence of around five to six juniors in the side.

The juniors included Kashif Shah, Khalid Bhatti, M Rizwan, Umar Bhutta, Ali Shaan and Mohammad Taufiq.

The inexperience did cost us but now we must just look ahead to the European tour and the decision of whether they want to bring back the senior players rests with the selectors," Junaid said.

For a sport which has brought three Olympics titles and four World Cups to the country, the present state of affairs was a big disappointment for many in the hockey fraternity.

"We haven`t won Olympic gold since 1984 and what I fear is that if the team does not do well this time hockey will really suffer as a sport in Pakistan and I fear the youth will stay away from the game," Samiullah said.

The PHF believes one major reason for the team`s poor show was that the players have still not adjusted to playing on the new blue astro turf that will be used in the Olympics.

"Yes it has been a problem because we don`t have this blue turf anywhere in Pakistan so our players lacked the experience of playing on it," PHF secretary Asif Bajwa said.

But former Olympian and coach Qamar Ibrahim said this was no excuse.

"Only the color is different the turf material is the same. The fact is poor planning and policies have left us in a bad state before the Olympics," he said.


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