Pakistan hockey players lacking team spirit

August 13th, 2008 - 8:07 pm ICT by IANS  

By K.Hussain
Karachi, Aug 13 (IANS) Reports of rifts within the national hockey team have emerged after Pakistan’s morale-shattering 2-4 defeat against Great Britain in their opening Olympic Games match in Beijing Monday. The Pakistanis crashed to their first Olympic defeat to Britain in 56 years in a crucial Pool B encounter Monday, a result that has nearly ended their hopes of making it to the last-four in Beijing.

They survived a scare against group underdogs Canada Wednesday but came back from a goal down in the second half to record an unconvincing 3-1 win.

With tougher games against defending champions Australia and title-contenders the Netherlands yet to come, it would take a miracle for three-time Olympic champions Pakistan to make the cut for the semi-final.

Pakistani hockey officials have blamed an erratic display by their forwards for the stunning defeat against Britain, a side whom Pakistan defeated 8-1 and 8-2 in the last two Olympics in Sydney and Athens.

But well-placed sources have confirmed to IANS that there is more to Pakistan’s below-par performance than meets the eye.

According to the sources, Pakistani players have split into two or three groups and most of them are not fully supporting captain Zeeshan Ashraf.

A seasoned defender, Zeeshan spent a lot of time on the sidelines before making a surprise comeback as the captain less than a year before the Olympics. He is at the helm of a team that has four past captains, including midfielder Muhammad Saqlain, striker Rehan Butt and goalie Salman Akber.

Sources said there is little unity within the team and the management is doing little to help gel the combination that carries all of Pakistan’s hopes for an Olympic medal.

Sources said the officials are also unsure about their own future as there is a strong likelihood that they would be axed once the Olympics will be over regardless of how their team performs in Beijing.

Pakistan’s sports authorities replaced the previous secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) Khalid Mehmood just weeks before the Olympics and brought on another former Olympian Asif Bajwa.

PHF president Zafarullah Khan Jamali is also set to face the axe as the government will be appointing former Olympian Qasim Zia, a member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), as the new PHF chief immediately after Pakistan’s Beijing trip is over.

Sources pointed out that in such a scenario, there is little team spirit in the Pakistan camp. According to an eye witness, the players bickered soon after losing to Britain with Saqlain, a temperamental player, scolding some of the younger guys.

The PHF has also been unable to maintain any discipline in the team ranks and is trying to woo the players by announcing cash incentives.

Each of the players is to receive a $500 bonus for each win in the Olympics and a semi-final berth would fetch every team member a brand new car. But so far it seems that the incentives package offered by the PHF has failed to do the trick.

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