HOCKEY: ASIAN GOLD REVIVE MEMORIES OF OLYMPICS GOLD

ANISUDDIN KHAN
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Nov 29 - Dec 5, 2010

The celebration in the streets and bazaars and amongst sports fan after Pakistan bagged the hockey gold at Guangzhou Asian Games brought back the memories of 1960 when the fledging nation won its first Olympic hockey gold defeating arch rivals India in Rome.

About a half a century ago radio and print media or news bulletins of Radio Pakistan were the only source of breaking news. When the voice of an English commentator crackled on radio waves declaring, Pakistan had won Rome Olympic gold through Naseer Bunda goal, the country went wild with jubilation. The victory was sweeter because it came against India the unchallenged Olympic champion.

Pakistan's victory was even mentioned in the Indian parliament where the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru congratulated the neighbor for winning the gold. Though the defeat, he said, was painful but one can take some heart that the gold medal had gone to a deserving team and had remained in the sub continent.

But, at Guangzhou on Thursday noon Pakistan carved out victory against a lower ranked Malaysia to win its first Asian Games hockey gold in twenty years and first hockey title after sixteen years since 1994 when under mercurial Shahbaz Ahmed they won Sydney World Cup.

For Pakistan victory at a hockey title event has become so rare and strange that Guangzhou gold was some thing special that the nation was looking forward to.

Pakistan's rival Malaysia in the final was a lower ranked team and Pakistan were favourite to win. However, looking at the track record of Malaysia in the eight team championship and its victory over India in the semi final, Pakistan had to be cautious.

Malaysia with a two minuets blitz in which it scored two goals against favourite India at the fag end of the semi final turned the tables on stronger opponent and won 4-3. Pakistan also had heart stopping experience against the title holders South Korea in the other semi final. Pakistan won final berth in the sudden death stroke session. Without a goal from young Haseem Khan and two remarkable saves from Salman Akbar, Pakistan could not have won. Victory has given Pakistan a place in 2012 London Olympics.

Winners of the continental events automatically get place in the Olympics. Thus Pakistan by winning has avoided a grueling qualifying round which will start some time next year to find six qualifiers to join those six who would come through continental competitions. Another plus for Pakistan hockey from the goal winning performance would be lifting of pressure on Pakistan Hockey Federation.

The PHF president former Olympian Qasim Zia and his secretary former Olympian Asif Bajwa were under tremendous pressure from former hockey stalwarts who blamed Asif Bajwa for every thing negative in Pakistan hockey.

Leading former Olympian and world cuppers Islahuddin, Shahnaz Shaikh, and many others were severely critical of Asif Bajwa when Pakistan finished 12th in New Delhi world cup. They painted dooms day scenario for Pakistan hockey and with renewed vigor campaigned for the removal of Bajwa which was unjustified.

Results at Guangzhou has humbled the hockey stalwarts. It would lift pressure from the PHF which could now focus on reviving Pakistan hockey at international stage.

Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa could start with confidence without distraction preparation for London Olympics which is hardly less than two years away.

Apart from the gold medal, one positive aspect that has emerged from victory is realisation and importance of physical fitness. The PHF by placing its unqualified support to Dutch coach Michel Van Dan Heuval has shown maturity in management. The Dutch placed fitness of the team on the top rung of the priorities. His punishing fitness regime planned for the team had paid rich dividend. Physical fitness played an important role in victory. It was because of fitness that Pakistan after playing energy sapping semi final recovered to be fit enough for the final.

Hockey teams performance made people forgot the loss Pakistan cricket team suffered at the hands of Afghanistan in the Games T20 cricket competition. The Pakistanis could not chase a small target set by their rivals and collapsed. Pakistan cricket team however managed to clinch a bronze and the gold went to Bangladesh which beat Afghanistan in the final. This is the only gold that Bangladesh won at the Games.

Pakistan women's cricket team has already won a gold medal. Another notable gold medal that Pakistan got came in squash team event where Pakistan earned a deserving victory against Malaysia which was the odd on favourite.