Former Pakistan goalkeeper Salman Akbar hailed the World XI vs Pakistan XI two-match series, but said the country needed to do “much more” to regain the lost glory and their place back in world hockey.
A veteran of over 200 games and member of the 2010 Asian Games gold medal team in Guangzhou, Akbar along with the legendary Waseem Ahmed, Sohail Abbas and Rehan Butt besides others, saw many highs in his career (2001-2010) that saw Pakistan dish out consistent performances.
He says it “hurts” to see Pakistan hockey on a downhill and believes “a proper professional set up” can bring things back on track. The 36-year-old, who is now based in Holland and plays club hockey there besides also training youngsters, speaks exclusively to Dragflickworld.com
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. You have been a significant part of Pakistan hockey having seen them on top to the time where teams stopped coming to play in the country. How do you look at this transition?
Serving Pakistan for several years, which was once at the top and teams from all over the world use to come and play to Pakistan and then to a point when it all stopped, which I think one of the reason that interest of the youth towards the national sport has diminished. The World XI series can help the Pakistan Hockey to bring the interest back in the youth which can be one of the tool which can help Pakistan hockey to have bigger pool of the players in the country.
Q. Pakistan last hosted a sporting event of note in 2004, i.e., the Champions Trophy in 2004, and you were a part of that tournament. Did you ever reckon that it would be the last time that a Pakistan team would play in front of their home fans?
It was an awesome experience playing a mega event like the Champions Trophy in front of the home crowd. I would never have been able to imagine that it will be the last mega event played till now, which without any doubt hurts. I wish and pray that stadiums in Pakistan will be filled once again.
Q. What are your fondest memories of playing in Pakistan in front of the home crowd? Can you relate any incidents?
Yes, there are a lot. Taking my hockey friends from the Indian team on a ride and showing them my city Lahore. Then I saw how some Indian players got a chance to see the houses of their forefathers, things like this make you realise how sports can bring hearts together.
Q. The World XI series will see a number of International stars visit Pakistan after a long, long time. How encouraging a sign is this and do you think it can bring back international hockey to Pakistan?
To bring international hockey back in Pakistan, I think it’s like a first step towards it. It is a big test for marketing department of the Pakistan Hockey Federation and their performance can also be tested.
Q. What do you think series mean to the present generation of players who are playing in front of the home crowd for the first time?
Playing at home always gives an extra motivation. These two matches against World X1 will surely motivate the players to perform for the country with more passion and huger to win.
Q. Pakistan have a very important place in world hockey but recent developments have brought down their hockey performance. What do you think needs to be done to take Pakistan hockey ahead?
There are so many reasons behind it where Pakistan hockey stands now. From my point of view, it’s time to stop keep renovating the old building and start building a new one which should be loaded with all the latest technology and equipment. One needs to think about national sport, and not about personal interest.
Domestic structure need a massive and urgent attention. My personal view is that hockey people should not run the office, instead they should go to the grounds, train the players, transfer their knowledge and experience to the youth. Proper administration is need of the hour. Professionals are required to run hockey. Not only the national team players but every single player needs to be facilitated and should be provided top-level coaching and education. Implementation of a proper long plan should be followed with the help of professionals.