Pakistan's Olympic humiliation in national sport

Sohail Abbas (L) of Pakistan leaves the field along with team members after Pakistan lost to Australia Pakistan needed to win their last game to have a chance of reaching the semi-finals, but were routed 7-0 by Australia

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The morning after Pakistan crashed out of the London Olympics without a medal, it is eerily quiet in Islamabad.

On Tuesday, the men's field hockey team - the country's sole hope of a medal - conceded a humiliating 7-0 defeat by favourites Australia.

But there are no mourners, no protests by angry fans, no newspaper editorials - not even any front page coverage of the event.

Headlines on the inner sports pages ranged from impersonal to acerbic.

"Clinical Aussies dent Pakistan's pride," wrote Islamabad-based tabloid Pakistan Today.

"Routed," ran the headline of the trendy Express Tribune.

A television news channel, Aaj, headlined its reports with "Pakistan lose by not one, not two, but seven goals".

The sports editor of a top Pakistani newspaper told me no-one expected the hockey team to revive their past glory, and that's why no-one was there to mourn their demise or express anger and frustration.

Pakistan v Australia, 1960 Olympics in Rome Pakistan were at the top of their game when they played Australia in Rome in 1960

Pakistan won their last Olympic gold at Los Angeles in 1984, and their last Olympic medal - a bronze - at Barcelona in 1992.

They won their last hockey World Cup in 1994.

They won a gold at the 2010 Asian Games, but their performances before and after that event have been dismal.

Turf wars

Hockey has suffered a similar fate across the border in India, which has won Olympic gold eight times, six in a row. In London 2012, they also exited on Tuesday, without a single victory to their name.

Pakistan's hockey players too have seen times of greatness, winning three Olympic golds and four World Cup titles, which is still a record.

So why have they fallen so low?

Experts say the decline of Asian hockey coincides with the advent of artificial turf that gained currency in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

It changed the dynamics of Asian hockey, rendering the dribble-and-dodge game of short passes that Indians and Pakistanis were so good at completely obsolete.

It also cut the careers of players by half, and demanded greater physical fitness than before, experts say.

They concede that the Asians have not been able to match the fitness levels of Western players.

Also, the International Hockey Federation has over the decades changed some basic rules of the game that the Asians had mastered in their heyday.

This also proved to be a disadvantage, they say.

In Pakistan, there have also been noises in some quarters to the effect that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has become politicised, nepotistic and corrupt, just like its cricket counterpart.

14,000 rupees per match, which amounts to 150 dollars (roughly 93 rupees to a dollar) whereas our story says 250 dollars.

But, unlike the cricket board, the PHF pays very little money - 14,000 rupees per match (£96; $150) - to its players, which many think is a recipe for low fitness and sagging morale.

Simon Orchard of Australia goes past Muhammad Umar of Pakistan The move away from grass changed the dynamics of the game and demanded greater fitness from players
Militancy

For both India and Pakistan hockey is the national game.

India's fifth defeat in a row on Tuesday prompted The Hindu newspaper to run the headline: "National game now a national shame."

In Pakistan, the younger generation does not even realise it is their national game, and nobody has bothered to remind them.

The country has faced chronic political instability since the 1990s, and has suffered the worst kind of militancy for nearly a decade.

This has worsened the economic situation, and undermined civic amenities such as healthcare, water and electricity.

An increasingly fractious population has in the past found itself unified and elevated by victories on the hockey and cricket pitch.

But, as time goes by, such interludes are becoming few and far between.

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