Controversial Shahbaz becomes PHF secretary after Mujahid resigns

Hasan Sardar appointed advisor to PHF chief, Rasheed Junior and Tahir Zaman to manage junior outfit

 LAHORE – It was another nail in the coffin of Pakistan hockey when controversial former captain and Olympian Shahbaz Senior became the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) secretary general on Wednesday. Shahbaz replaced former Olympian Rana Mujahid Ali who resigned from the coveted post after two years in office. Even after being given a three-year extension by the PHF Congress last week, Mujahid’s resignation was not a surprise after a probe committee constituted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held the top PHF officials responsible for the national team’s dismal performance at the Hockey World League (HWL) in Antwerp.

Mujahid’s days were numbered the moment Akhtar Rasool resigned and a retired brigadier, very ambitious Khalid Sajjad Khokhar, became the president of the national federation. The appointment of the new PHF secretary was announced at a sham press conference by PHF chief Khalid in Islamabad. Khalid also announced new appointments for the national junior team. Rasheed Junior was named as the chief selector and Tahir Zaman as the head coach of the national junior team. The other members of the junior selection committee are Saeed Khan, Farhat Khan, Shahbaz Junior and Waseem Feroz. The two new assistant coaches of the junior squad are Zeeshan Ashraf and Mohammad Irfan.

The Akhtar-led PHF management was in hot waters for the last two months after Pakistan failed to qualify for the Olympics for the time in their history. Pakistan, who had won Olympic gold three times and World Cup four times, finished eighth in the Olympic qualifying round in Belgium in July. Now they will not be playing in the Rio Olympics 2016 in Brazil. Living in a fool’s paradise, Mujahid was hoping that new PHF president Khalid would work with him. But he soon realised that his ‘services were no longer required’. Khalid and his cronies gave a clear message to Mujahid that they wanted their own man at the post of secretary. And former Olympian Mujahid had no choice. It was wiser for Mujahid if he had resigned with his president Akhtar. But he made himself a laughing stock. “I have tendered my resignation to PHF president Khalid. I have stepped down willingly and without any pressure,” Mujahid told reporters at a news conference at the Pakistan Sports Board in the federal capital. He said he had tried his best to improve Pakistan hockey but decided to step down to give a chance to someone else to work towards that direction. “During my tenure as secretary I faced criticism with decency and courage. However; I appeal to all those Olympians who have been opposing us to allow the new PHF team to work for the betterment of national game. My cooperation will always be available to the federation for the betterment of Pakistan hockey,” Mujahid added.

Despite facing financial crunch and harsh criticism, the greenshirts, under Mujahid and Akhtar, won one gold and two silver medals in three major events. It was Mujahid and Akhtar who succeeded in raising a team that played three finals in 2014: silver in FIH Champions Trophy held in India, gold in Asian Champions Trophy and silver in the Incheon Asian Games. But the PHF could not field a well-prepared team for the Olympic qualifiers held in Belgium because of the federal government’s lacklustre attitude towards the PHF which resulted in severe shortage of funds the hockey federation had to face. It was lamentable that the federal government even did not honour the national team for playing three back-to-back finals. Surprisingly, the idiotic Inter Provincial Ministry (IPC) and its ‘sage’ officials released the prize money to the players for winning silver medal in the Asiad at a time when the greenshirts were nowhere in the race for the Olympics. Ouster from the Olympics actually paved the way for those wanting to remove Mujahid and Akhtar. Now with the fulfilment of certain disgruntled elements’ desire, including that of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to oust Mujahid and Akhtar, the PHF is all set to get the required budget and financial support which the government was not willing to provide for the last two years. No sporting federation is a bed of roses, especially one that carries the aspirations of the nation. And the federation’s new president and secretary will soon learn the lesson the hard way.

Shahbaz and revolt of 1998: Newly appointed PHF secretary Shahbaz is considered to be among the best forwards in the history of field hockey. He played in three Olympic Games, winning a bronze medal in 1992. He is the only player in history of hockey to win two consecutive player of the tournament awards in the 1990 World Cup in Lahore and in the 1994 World Cup in Sydney. Despite his excellent services for the national game, Shahbaz, who works for Pakistan International Airlines, is not considered suitable for the coveted post by many. His “intriguing nature” and the revolt he led before the Atlanta Olympics is still fresh in the minds of hockey lovers. Before the Atlanta Olympics 1998, a revolt of such magnitude was unprecedented in the history of Pakistan hockey. On May 26, 1998 as many as 24 of the 32 probables, who were to appear in the one-day Olympic hockey trials at the Karachi camp, rebelled against the team management and the selection committee, refusing to take part unless their demands were met. The first such revolt by hockey players in Pakistan took place exactly in 1988 and had been led by former Olympian Hasan Sardar, who is now appointed as advisor to Khalid. Shahbaz declared that he wanted the ouster of manager Col (r) Mudassar Asghar, coach Manzoorul Hassan and the disbandment of the selection committee. He also wanted to meet Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before the players decide to join the Atlanta Olympic camp. He made it clear that if his demands were not acceded to then Pakistan might miss the bus for the Atlanta Olympics. Since completing his overseas posting with the PIA, Shahbaz, like his ambitious president, was ‘trying his level best’ to get hold of the PHF’s prized post. And Pakistan is a paradise for the persons with ‘right connections’. But nothing positive or fruitful comes out when the persons at the helm have dubious and controversial backgrounds.

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