LAHORE: Former champions Pakistan ended their campaign at the Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) Hockey Tournament at dismal fifth spot in India last week. It was green shirts’ worst-ever placing in the tournament’s history. They won the coveted trophy twice in 2012 and 2013 while they shared the trophy with India in 2018 after rain played spoilsport in Muscat, Oman. Pakistan were finalists on two occasions: 2011 and 2016. It was unfortunate that the Pakistan hockey team, for the first time, failed to reach the last four of the ACT since the introduction of the tournament. It was another first for Pakistan! The ACT is a prestigious tournament held in Asia, showcasing the talent and competitiveness of top Asian hockey nations. The ACT has become a highly anticipated event, attracting top Asian hockey teams and providing a platform for intense competition and rivalry. The tournament has witnessed thrilling matches, historic moments, and fierce battles between the participating nations, further enhancing the legacy and significance of the ACT in the field of Asian hockey. India won the 2023 ACT crown after defeating Malaysia 4-3 in the final. With the victory, India became the most successful team in the Asian Champions Trophy, ahead of three-time champions Pakistan. Pakistan’s only wins at the tournament came against lowest-ranked China 2-1 in the round-robin stage, before they thrashed them 6-1 in the fifth-place play-off. They held South Korea to a 1-1 draw and then scored a last-gasp goal to pull off a 3-3 stalemate against Japan. But heavy defeats to Malaysia (3-1) in their opening game and India (4-0) in their final game of the round-robin pushed them out of the semi-final running. The last time Pakistan won against India in hockey was back in the 2016 South Asian Games. Since then, they are on a 16-match winless streak. The agonising reality is that Pakistan hockey has acquired a ‘loser’ image in world hockey and become a synonym for defeat, mediocrity and failure. Pakistan hockey’s slump is not quite as dramatic or sudden as it now seems to be. It’s been a slow and painful decline. The performance and poor result at the 2023 ACT showed that Pakistan hockey needs much work to do just to keep pace with the rest. Pakistan had gone into the competition in Chennai with hopes of doing well, ahead of the 19th Asian Games to be held in September this year. The Asian Games in the Chinese city of Hangzhou offer a spot at next year’s Paris Olympics for the winners. Pakistan failed to qualify for the last two Olympics and, given their showing at the Asian Champions Trophy, they require a rapid turnaround to win gold at the 19th Asian Games in China. Since 1948, hockey had been Pakistan’s main hope for an Olympic, World Cup, Asian Games and other major events medals. The hockey squad always formed a major part of Pakistan’s Olympic contingent. Pakistan participated in Olympics 16 times. The only absence was in 1980 at Moscow, when many nations boycotted the Olympics in protest against the former Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Good wasn’t a good enough adjective for Pakistan hockey in those days. Outstanding, phenomenal, stellar, magnificent: these were the adjectives Pakistan often found before their name when the world talked about their hockey once upon a time. But since the 1994 World Cup win, the state of the game in Pakistan has not just nosedived for the green shirts, it has crash-landed. It is lamentable that Pakistan hockey, which remained up in the clouds for more than three decades, is not the same force that it used to be. For a country that has won three Olympic golds and a record four World Cup titles, more than any other nation, missing out on back-to-back Olympic Games and two World Cups is nothing less than a catastrophe. Pakistan hockey, which inspired millions around the globe, has failed to win a single Olympic medal of any colour since 1992 Barcelona, what to say about other major or reginal titles. The agonising reality is that Pakistan hockey has acquired a ‘loser’ image in world hockey and become a synonym for defeat, mediocrity and failure. Pakistan hockey’s slump is not quite as dramatic or sudden as it now seems to be. It’s been a slow and painful decline. The major causes for the decline of Pakistan hockey are multifarious. Hockey is no longer a game of choice for youth and concerned parents in Pakistan. School and college level hockey has diminished from the country. The government and private sector’s apathy towards the national sport and giving more importance to cricket. Lack of media attention as hardly any channel in Pakistan discusses the issues related to hockey due to domination of cricket. With the modern changes in the requirements of the game, Pakistan has not been able to compete with the fast pace of changing rules. It is unfortunate that Pakistan hockey structure lacks in terms of skills and competitiveness. The very base of the game has shrunk beyond belief. And above all, the incompetency, lack of planning, unprofessionalism of the Pakistan Hockey Federation along with inconsistent policies have destroyed the very fabric of hockey. To rise above again, Pakistan hockey requires strong financial backup, commitment and self-belief. Only hard and incessant efforts lead to success. In the absence of these, we should not dream of reaching skies. The future of hockey in Pakistan heavily depends on paying attention to grassroots hockey. Pakistan had been a fantastic hockey nation for decades and ruled at international level by virtue of their talent and skills and now they are struggling to make their mark at the highest level of the game and they should pay attention to their grassroots level in order to broaden the base of the game. Pakistan hockey needs adequate hockey activities at early level which is only possible by evolving a system which could ensure that hockey gets due attention among the youth. It is so painful that country’s national sport, having so much pride and passion, has gone to the dogs.