Shahbaz Ahmed, former Pakistan field hockey captain, smiles during an interview in Doha yesterday. Ahmad was part of the bronze-winning Pakistan team at the 1992 Olympics and is the only player in the history of field hockey to bag two consecutive Player of the Tournament awards at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
BY ARMSTRONG VAs
DOHA: Arch-rivals India and Pakistan must stop resisting change in order to reclaim lost glory, former field hockey captain and World Cup star Shahbaz Ahmad has said.
Pakistan, four-time World Cup champions, hit rock bottom at the last edition held in New Delhi, finishing last in the 12-team event.
India, eight-time Olympic champions, finished the 2010 World Cup on home soil in 8th spot.
Neither team reached the semi-finals of the London Olympic Games in August this year.
“When the Europeans were changing their style of play, we (India and Pakistan) were stagnant. We should change,” Ahmad said in an interview yesterday.
“We should come to modern hockey, we should improve our coaching system. We have to work hard on our grass roots development programmes,” the 1994 World Cup winning captain added.
“Our way of selections have not changed. The things we were doing 20 years back is what we are still doing,” Ahmad lamented.
Excerpts from a chat with the Pakistani hockey great.
Q: How do you like the idea of World Hockey League introduced by International Hockey Federation (FIH) for lower ranked countries like Qatar?
A: The World Hockey League is an excellent concept. It is a great chance for smaller nations to come forward and to play and learn from each other. I appreciate the step taken by FIH and Asian Hockey Federation and whoever is involved to empower the smaller nations.
Q: A number of Pakistan-born players are playing for the local club Shabab Qatar and now are playing for Qatar in the World Hockey League. Was it a wise decision by them to move to Qatar?
A: There are thousands and thousands of cricket and hockey players in India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, if you are away from education, then you are away from (a good) job ... how can you have a secure future without good education? So, interest in hockey is becoming less and less day by day. So, if they get a job (in Qatar), and are satisfied in life, then why shouldn’t they move to another country to play? I have also suggested to FIH to professionalise the game by introducing incentives like prize money. Hockey is behind because there is no money. If you see cricket, it has become an industry and a business.
Q: Is there any initiative to start the India-Pakistan hockey Test series now that the cricket series has already been announced?
A: I do not know about it. But both nations should sit together country and organise it (hockey series). I have told Pakistan hockey officials, unless and until you introduce India and Pakistan series you will not get (new) stars. When you play against each other (India-Pakistan) then you get good players. We (players) know the nations are behind and they are watching, then the players get confidence.
Q: Are you favour of hosting India-Pakistan matches at neutral venues?
A: I do not like the concept of organising matches in third countries. From where will you get the spectators? You have the matches in Doha or in Dubai, but, then a lot of kids (in India and Pakistan) will miss those games (if they are held at a neutral venue). I want the kids to come along with their families to the ground and enjoy the matches in India and Pakistan and get inspired. I see lot of kids playing cricket on the streets in Pakistan, cricket with tennis ball. With the India-Pakistan hockey Test series, we can enhance the value of the game. The matches (involving India and Pakistan) are often sensational and the nationalist feelings are involved.
Q: What steps would you suggest for the improvement of the game in the Indian sub continent?
A: When officials of India and Pakistan meet, they have their own agenda, to retain their positions in the federations and committees. We need to get hockey back to the prime position it was. We need to introduce hockey in schools and colleges. The problem in Pakistan and Indian hockey is that people with knowledge of the game are keeping away from the game due to the unproductive system. We do not share knowledge and we do not meet often. We need to form small hockey development teams to prepare and carry the development programme forward.
Q: What do you mean by unproductive system?
A: Our associations are moving in opposite directions. They are appointing coaches and managers to please someone. Even the selections are not fair.
Q: Are you hopeful that Asian hockey will bounce back to the glory days?
A: As long as I am live I have hope we can, we need sincere people. We need planning and vision.
Q: Is hiring European coaches an ideal solution to rectify the problems of Indian and Pakistan hockey?
A: We brought so many foreign coaches for the last nine to ten years. Are they loyal to the country they coach? They pretend to be loyal. Even if you pay them $1m salary they will not be loyal. They will not allow you to win. India and Pakistan must shed their fascination for foreign coaches if the powers-that-be want to achieve any success in world hockey. We should trust our people to train our own boys because there has to be a level of comfort in communication and understanding between a coach and his players and that can come only if there is a local coach.
Q: Do you regret missing out on winning a gold medal at the Olympics?
A: I have no regrets in my life. There are plenty of people in India and Pakistan who have won the Olympic medal but did not achieve what I could. I am happy that many people idolise me and I am a role model for them.
Q: Do you intend to return to Doha for the Asian Champions Trophy later this month?
A: Certainly, I will be there. I cannot miss out on the India-Pakistan action in Doha.