Hockey: The foreign hand
Pakistan’s men’s hockey team and management have been under severe criticism post London Olympics 2012, given that they could not even manage a bronze medal. The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has been held responsible by a group of former Olympians which is demanding change in the federation set-up for its abject failure in rebuilding the team during the past four years. At the same time, another group of former Olympians issued counter statements in defence of the PHF.
Despite the PHF’s efforts to rebuild the team with the help of our former Olympian coaches, Pakistan has won very few major titles in the past few decades. The constant failure led to the hiring of foreign coaches like Netherland’s Hans Jorristma who coached the team on a modern and scientific pattern. It was under his tutelage that Pakistan recaptured the World Cup for the fourth and last time in 1994 and the Champions Trophy in Lahore in the same year.
A decade later — after several coaching attempts by former Olympians — the PHF once again hired another Dutch coach, Oltamans, to rebuild the team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. The nine-month assignment was too short a period and Pakistan finished fifth. In the Champion Trophy at Lahore we won the bronze.
The responsibility of coaching the team was yet again handed over to former Olympians for 2010 Delhi World Cup. Pakistan gave its worst-ever performance in 29 years Cup history and were relegated from sixth place to 12th in the 12-nation tournament.
Islamabad took serious notice of this pathetic performance, and eventually, the PHF president Qasim Zia — a former Olympian himself — took a wise decision and hired internationally renowned Dutch coach Michel van den Heuvel for a two-year term which was to end after the London Olympics 2012. Under the third Dutch coach’s training Pakistan regained the Asian Games title after a lapse of 20 years and this victory earned Pakistan direct entry in the recent London Olympics hockey. The team played modern attacking hockey and had its eyes set on the 2012 Olympic gold medal.
However, matters turned controversial when the Dutch coach voted against Pakistan’s participation in the Champions Trophy when the event was shifted from India to New Zealand last year. Pakistan was included at the last moment when the number of teams was raised from six to eight, hardly a month before the tournament. The PHF ignored the coach’s advice and Pakistan finished seventh.
This provided a great opportunity to former Olympians to pressurise the PHF into removing the Dutch coach. According to media reports, Heuvel was ready to fulfill his contract but the PHF dismissed him barely three months before the London Olympics. The coaching job was given to former Olympians and in London we suffered the expected humiliation.
It’s evident that Pakistan hockey does well under foreign coaches, which is why this method should be tested again. Perhaps Qasim Zia should now consider hiring a German coach since Germany is now a great hockey power, in order to rebuild the team for the 2014 World Cup. So far we have hired three foreign coaches and the results have been quite satisfactory, so let’s try our luck one more time.