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Olympic hopes dashed, shock grips Pakistan hockey community

Karachi: A pall of gloom shrouded the Pakistan hockey community on Friday after the national team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in the history of the quadrennial event.

Once a powerhouse of the sport, Pakistan suffered a shocking 0-1 defeat to Ireland in a play-off match for the fifth to eighth spots of the Hockey World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium to put an end to of their hopes of qualifying for next year's Rio Olympics.

"This is one of the most shameful days for Pakistan hockey. If the Pakistan Hockey Federation officials, the team management and selectors have any self-respect they should all resign immediately," former captain and Olympian Samiullah said.

"I urge the government to take notice of the shambles our hockey is in now and sack those responsible for this mess," he added. To add fuel to fire, the current president and secretary of the PHF are in Belgium as also the former secretary Asif Bajwa.

They all are said to have travelled on PHF expenses to attend a meeting. Their presence has not gone down well at a time when the
PHF has been pleading for funds from the government and sponsors to send the team for the Olympic qualifiers.

The team was only able to travel after the government-appointed Pakistan Sports Board gave a special grant to cover all expenses. Pakistan, who once ruled world hockey, also failed to qualify for the World Cup last year for the first time in the history of the event.

Pakistan needed to finish at least in the fifth spot in Antwerp to have any hopes of getting a ticket to next year's Rio Olympics. Olympian Ayaz Mehmood, who announced his resignation as national selector on television the same day when Pakistan lost to Great Britain in Antwerp, said it was a dark day for Pakistan hockey.

"I just don't know where we go from here it is unimaginable that for the first time in our history our hockey team will not be appearing at the Olympic Games," Ayaz, a member Pakistan's 1984 Olympic gold medal-winning side said. Another Olympian and centre forward Hasan Sardar said that hockey yesterday has reached its lowest ebb in Pakistan because the government had not taken the sport seriously and allowed incompetent people to destroy the fabrics of the sport in the country.

"We have been on a decline since last six seven years. What is the use of crying now? One can only hope that after these results things will change and people with real interests of Pakistan hockey at heart are brought in to change things," he said. Former celebrated forward and coach Hanif Khan said he was shocked after hearing about the loss to Ireland.

"Even after we lost to England I was sure we would secure 5th place and keep our chances alive of playing in the Olympics. But today the loss to Ireland is a body blow to our hockey. In such a crucial game we missed so many golden scoring chances," he said.

The government is already carrying out an audit into funds spent by the PHF in the last few years that were granted to it by the government and already speculations have been rife about the auditors finding financial mismanagement. Pakistan could have booked a straight spot in the Olympics last year in the Incheon Asian Games but lost to India in the final on penalty shoot-out.

Hockey remains the national sport of Pakistan and in the past the greenshirts have won four World Cups, three Olympic gold medals and a host of other international and Asian titles. Their last major triumph came in the 2010 Asian games under Dutch coach Van Den, who was sacked unceremoniously by the PHF then headed by Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa.

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