Both India and Pakistan may have made it to the London Olympics in style, but hockey legend Shahbaz Ahmed believes they will both struggle at the Games nevertheless.
Shahbaz Ahmed of Pakistan is challenged by Mohd Nor Mohd Madzli Ikmar of Malaysia during the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur on March 7, 2002.
One of the greatest forwards to have graced the game of hockey, the 1994 World Cup-winning captain of Pakistan is in India as an official with the inaugural franchise-based World Series Hockey, and loving every moment being here. He doesn’t even remember the exact year he last visited the neigbouring nation as he has completely cut himself off from hockey and is instead committed to Pakistan International Airlines as country head in Saudi Arabia.
Shahbaz in Mumbai yesterday. Pics/Getty Images, Suresh KK
Corruption is the reason the nimble-footed Shahbaz (46) has given up on Pakistan hockey. However, in WSH — where Mumbai Marines thrashed Chennai Cheetahs yesterday — he sees some light at the end of the tunnel. In an exclusive interview with MiD DAY, the hockey great spoke of the ills and the frills associated with Indo-Pak hockey.
On Indo-Pak hockey:
I’ve not seen any major improvement in Indo-Pak hockey since the last time I picked up the stick in the 2002 FIH World Cup. And the reason for this is that our respective federations are corrupt. No one is interested in working for the betterment of the game. I have been approached numerous times by the Pakistan hockey federation to come on board — they have promised me a hefty salary of Rs 1.5 lakh a month and more, but only to keep my mouth shut. I’ve attended some federation meetings and seen first-hand the level of corruption that exists. All they want is that experienced people like me remain in their offices but keep mum because if we open our mouths, they will all be exposed. In fact, that’s the reason I’ve not encouraged my children — eldest daughter Ayesha (18), son Hashir (16), youngest son Shaheed (10) — to play hockey. There is no scope for any player to do well in this corrupt scenario.
On World Series Hockey:
WSH is the best example of how our federations are out to spoil the game and players’ careers. Both, the Indian and Pakistani hockey federations have threatened to ban its players participating in WSH. Why should they do that? I stand by Rehan Butt, Zeeshan Ashraf and all the Pakistani players playing in this WSH, because they are earning their daily bread. What I could not earn in 20 years of my playing career, these boys can earn by playing WSH, so where is the
On the difference between Indo-Pak hockey and European hockey:
The difference is in our grass root approach to the game. We learn from childhood that as soon as we receive the ball, we have to take two-three touches, then look for a teammate to release the ball. That approach is flawed. In modern hockey, even before a pass is received, the player has to know where is going to relay that ball. That’s where the Europeans are
On the new rule changes introduced by FIH:
The rules changed are very exciting, especially the self-start rule. If this rule was applicable in my time, I would have been uncatchable by any defender in the world. Sadly, we haven’t used this rule to our advantage, again because our players are more concerned about ball possession.
On foreign coaches:
India and Pakistan must shed their fascination for foreign coaches if the powers-that-be want to achieve any success in world hockey. Foreign coaches are appointed simply because the respective federations want to show their countrymen and the world of course that they are doing some good for the game. Instead, they are hurting the game, because foreign coaches simply lack the commitment to serve. And why shouldn’t they, considering the hefty salaries and VIP treatment meted out to them. They simply come, boast of some technical terminologies and go, leaving the team exactly where it was before they set out. We must look at promoting indigenous talent 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. Obviously, the indigenous coach picked must be a qualified guy.
On Indo-Pak’s Olympic chances:
I love my country and I love Indian hockey too, but the truth of the matter is, that both nations are far, far away from Olympic glory. Both teams have made it to the London Olympics alright, but let alone finishing among the medals, I’ll be glad to see them finish in the Top 8. We are miles away from the Europeans and Australians because of our backward-thinking federations.