For Pakistan men, the FIH Pro League offers a chance for one of the countries with the richest hockey-playing traditions a chance to get back among the world leaders in the game.
The Green Shirts have been knocking on the door of success in recent years as they have begun to rediscover winning ways after decades in the wilderness. At the Asian Games in 2014 they took silver, and followed that with a third consecutive gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games.
Third in the 2017 Asia Cup was followed by a gold medal at the 2018 Asia Champions Trophy. The sparks of a revival are there but the glory days of the 1970s and 80s still eludes them.
How to get back to winning ways on a global stage has proven a frustrating conundrum for the Pakistan hockey community. The team that sits at 12th in the FIH Hero Hockey World Rankings has three Olympic gold medals, three World Cup gold medals and three Champions Trophy gold medals but the last time the team won a major tournament was the 1994 World Cup in Sydney.
Pakistan’s place among the nine teams contesting the men’s FIH Pro League has been under threat at times because of the difficulty in finding the team a ‘home venue’, It was not deemed safe to play home matches in Pakistan itself and so Scotland offered its national hockey stadium as a venue for all Pakistan’s home games. That partnership agreement fell through and it was back to the drawing board.
The international hockey community stepped in, with other national associations offering venues to fit in with the match schedules. Hence, Pakistan will be playing home matches across Europe and South America, with the fixture list cutting excessive travel as far as possible.
For example, Pakistan will play back-to-back home and away fixtures in Argentina and, after playing an away match against Belgium in Brussels, they will adopt the Brussels stadium as their home venue to face Australia.
The result is a team that now has a slight nomadic feel to it; Pakistan’s home matches will be played in Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It is a solution to the problem that the resilient Pakistan team will just get on with.
With the recent resignation of Head Coach Tauqeer Dar and manager Hasan Sardar, Pakistan also has a new face at the helm to get used to.
Former captain and 1994 World Cup winner Saeed Khan has stepped into the role and will lead the team through its initial preparations for the FIH Pro League, which are taking place in Lahore and then Karachi.
The retention of Rehan Butt and Danish Kaleem has added a layer of stability to the leadership group. At present, the Pakistan Hockey Federation has said Khan’s appointment is temporary and changes could take place after the training camps have finished.
Pakistan’s FIH Pro League campaign starts in Argentina on 2 February. The following day they play a return fixture against the reigning Olympic champions.
They then cross the ocean to play Australia and New Zealand. For a team that is homeless, has a new Head Coach and a raft of new faces in its team, the FIH Pro League will present a huge challenge to the Green Shirts but it is a challenge they are ready to face as they seek to restore Pakistan’s reputation as a leader in international hockey.