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Igniting flame of hope for hockey’s revival in Pakistan

Igniting flame of hope for hockey’s revival in Pakistan

People like Khawaja Junaid must be encouraged for shaping tomorrow’s champions as with each flick of stick and every thundering goal, these aspiring players are poised to honing their skills and forging a path towards a brighter future for national sport

Agencies

ISLAMABAD, MAY 26: Overly pleased with a hockey stick in one hand and a text book in other, 12-year-old prodigy, Zunair Khan is redefining the spirit of being a student-athlete.

Belonging to a humble family background, he had never thought to get a chance to pursue his dual dreams of a professional hockey player and studying at a top-notch institution. But thanks to Khawaja Junaid Hockey Academy, he got enrolled in Aitcheson College Lahore, also securing a slot in its hockey outfit.

Zunair’s exceptional talent in hockey was spotted by the coaches of Khawaja Junaid Academy during a talent hunt camp at National Hockey Stadium, where he had come to try his luck for becoming a future sport star.

“I had never thought of studying at this institution. But my nurturing at the academy proved that anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” remarked Zunair, a class 7th student.

Shahid Khan, another promising player from the same academy, echoed similar sentiments. “Being at this academy has been a life-changing experience for me. It’s not just about learning hockey skills; but acquiring overall commitment and dedication for a successful life,” he said.

Both Zunair and Shahid were picked up by Aitchison College last year from Khawaja Junaid Academy and awarded full tuition fee waiver and a comfortable lodging at college’s hostel due to their remarkable talent and commitment to the sport.

“The college has a rich legacy of providing highly talented players to Pakistan hockey including legends like Hassan Sardar and Akhtar Rasool. But unfortunately, then there was a gap and it is now after a hiatus of around three decades that it offered scholarships to two rising stars,” said Junaid Chattha, a German qualified, FIH level-2 coach, who along with former hockey great Mohibullah trains players at the academy.

Established in 2015, the academy started functioning at Allama Iqbal Town at a small grassy ground before it was properly launched in September 2021 at National Hockey Stadium. Currently, there are around 300 boys and 60 girls, aged 3 to 18 years, who are being imparted free training, kits and other accessories.

“The players at the academy undergo comprehensive training, designed to hone their skills and elevate their game to next level,” remarked Junaid Chattha. “We’ve also extended our operation to Islamabad where around 60 budding players are being trained at Naseer Bunda Hockey Stadium and soon we are going to launch our academy’s branch at Government Viqar-un-Nisa Post Graduate College for Women, Rawalpindi.”

Chattha informed that cost of one kid’s training, travelling and equipment is around Rs 12,000 a month and presently friends and relatives of Khawaja Junaid are sponsoring the academy while coaches and other staff work as volunteers.

Pakistan hockey was once a formidable side, claiming three Olympic gold medals in 1960, 1968 and 1984, three silver medals in 1956, 1964 and 1972 and two bronze medals in 1976 and 1992. It also won four World Cup titles in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994 and finished runners-up twice in1975 and 1990.

Pakistan’s hockey players of that era were adored as national heroes, with legends like Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Hassan Sardar, Kaleemullah, Samiullah, Shahnaz Sheikh and Shahbaz Ahmed inspiring the young generations. The team was also a dominating force at Asian Games winning six gold medals as its good old days were marked by thrilling matches, memorable victories and a sense of national pride.

But later it suffered three decades long decline and a team once known to be an unbeaten side, even failed to qualify for Summer Olympics thrice consecutively in 2016, 2020 and 2024.  It also failed to make a cut to coveted World Cup in 2014 and 2023 while in 2010 and 2018 it ended 12th.

Number of factors contributed to its downfall from a dominant side to a back bencher, prominently the lack of investment and funding with Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) time and again complaining about financial constraints.

Neglecting schools and clubs as nurseries for young talent led to a dwindling player base as our hockey also struggled to keep pace with evolving tactics, strategies and technologies in the sport. Limited participation in top-level international tournaments and lack of exposure to world-class competitions was another reason of downfall.

As promising athletes like Zunair and Shahid embark on a new journey, their stories are a testament to transformative impact of Khawaja Junaid Hockey Academy in nurturing talent and shaping the future of hockey in Pakistan.

“Every drop of sweat is a step closer to glory,” believes Khawaja. “Our efforts are for unfolding new chapters in Pakistan’s hockey – fuelled by passion and dedication of young players.”

Therefore, people like Khawaja Junaid must be encouraged for shaping tomorrow’s champions as with each flick of stick and every thundering goal, these aspiring players are poised to honing their skills and forging a path towards a brighter future for national sport.






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