Despite Pakistan’s rich title history in hockey, their record at the Commonwealth Games is relatively poor.
Only twice have the Greenshirts, record four-time winners of the World Cup and three-time Olympic gold medallists, finished amongst the medal places — a bronze in 2002, followed by a silver in 2006.
Part of it could be explained by the fact that once hockey was introduced to the Commonwealth Games in 1998, Pakistan’s decline in the sport had already begun.
Pakistan last won the World Cup in 1994 and their last Olympic medal — a bronze — came in 1992. Although Pakistan won gold at the 2010 Asian Games and a silver at the following edition of the quadrennial continental spectacle, those medals were quickly forgotten with the national team failing to qualify for each of the last two Olympics as well as the 2014 World Cup.
The team will also miss next year’s World Cup having failed to secure qualification for the event after finishing fifth at the Asia Cup earlier this year.
Captain Umar Bhutta, however, is heading into the team’s Commonwealth Games Pool ‘A’ opener against South Africa on Saturday confident that his side can breathe some life into Pakistan hockey by securing a medal in Birmingham.
“The motivation is to take Pakistan back to where it belonged,” Umar told Dawn in a telephone interview on Friday. “The players are pumped up and want to achieve something here … we want to get a medal and improve Pakistan’s legacy at these Games.”
Pakistan’s young side, with several players having come into the team only last year, also face New Zealand, Scotland and six-time champions Australia in their pool with the top two advancing to the semi-finals.
“It is a challenge for us but the good thing about having a young side is that there is no fear,” said Umar. “They are gunning to go all out.”
Umar believes a medal at the Games would also ease out some pain of missing out on next year’s World Cup.
“We worked very hard but we couldn’t make it,” he reflected. “It was difficult for us and things didn’t fall our way but the players realise that this is just the start of a long journey to take Pakistan back to the top.”
Umar admitted that Pakistan, the pioneers of fancy stick-work in the sport, had failed to improve on the technical side of the sport to fall behind the rest of the world.
“Modern-day hockey is very technical,” he said. “There is a lot of stress on fitness and the new coaching set-up [led by Dutchman Siegfried Aikman] is working on bringing us up to the top level in that regard. What we need is stability and facilities at par with the international standard.”
The Pakistan skipper believes a good performance at the Commonwealth Games could set the tone for next year’s Asian Games and the Olympics in Paris the following year.
“We can build from here,” said Umar. “The Asian Games offer a direct qualification slot for the Olympics for the winner. That’s our aim right now.”