Bhubaneswar, December 5: Once a force in world hockey, Pakistan is struggling for survival now and its Olympic gold-winning former captain Hasan Sardar says even he would have been driven to play cricket given the current state of the sport in the country.
Sardar, who was a member of Pakistan's 1982 World Cup and 1984 Olympic gold medal winning Pakistan sides, feels the rise of cricket and "unprofessional" attitude of the national federation (PHF) has led to hockey's slow demise in the neighbouring country.
"There is no hockey culture in the country (Pakistan) now. People are into cricket more, people follow cricket more. I think that if I was a kid now with talent in hockey, I would prefer playing cricket than hockey. People are charmed by cricket," Sardar told PTI in an interview.
One of the most lethal centre-forwards of his generation, Sardar, who is here as the manager of the team participating in the ongoing World Cup, said Pakistan hockey has failed to produce any heroes in recent times. "Now kids want to become hero, they want role models. Hockey doesn't have any such heroes at the moment till we start winning."
Currently ranked 13th in the world, Pakistan boasts of a rich history in hockey having won three Olympic gold medals besides a record four World Cup titles. But the team has been suffering poor form for over a decade now and official apathy is one of the causes.
Sardar squarely put the blame on the national federation. "Our federation is facing plenty of problems. If the federation is in problem, then the players, coaches all will suffer. We also lost coach Roelant (Oltmans) because of this reason only," he said.
Fans were up for a big treat when @PHFOfficial contingent arrived at the OHMWC Bhubaneswar 2018 Fan Village on the evening of 4th December. They were given a warm welcome with heavy drum beats.#IndiaKaGame #HWC2018 #DilHockey pic.twitter.com/OkQMGjNUdz— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) December 3, 2018
"We need to work on grassroots and give importance to school and college level. There is no grassroots hockey in Pakistan. There are a handful of academies and no domestic hockey is happening except for the National Championship. The fault lies with the federation," he said.
Pakistan's participation in the ongoing World Cup was in serious doubt over lack of funds and only a last-minute intervention by a private sponsor made the trip possible. A home appliance company pumped in nine million Pakistani rupees to cover the team's expenses in the World Cup.
Sardar said Pakistan hockey's rise is directly proportionate to its performance and exposure against top teams of the world. He emphasised that the revival of India-Pakistan rivalry can do wonders for both the countries. "The biggest disadvantage for us is that we can't play international matches at home in front of home fans. But there are places like Muscat where plenty of Pakistanis live and easily travel. So, we need to play more and more matches there," he said.
"If our performance becomes better, people will come to watch us anywhere in the world. We don't have any problem in playing at neutral venues. We are ready to play in India and if India doesn't want to travel to Pakistan we can play at a neutral venue," he added.