As team Pakistan lost 1-0 to Ireland at Hockey World League in Antwerp, Belgium, crashing out of the tournament and failing to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in history; the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif angrily ‘demanded answers’ from the PHF on this dismal showing.

The decline of Pakistan hockey from the glory days of old is not a sudden calamity, it has been gradual and observable – the last time Pakistan won a major trophy was in the early 90s – hence the Prime Minister cannot ‘demand’ an explanation and construe that this was a freak incident. The loss to Ireland may be a shock defeat, but the precursors were evident. The PHF is chronically cash-strapped; unable to offer proper incentives to players, afford quality equipment, hire competent staff, or even fund airfare to regional commotions. A motley crowd of private sponsors bankroll the game and even then it falls prey to institutional corruption. Just like other sport federations, the senior officials of the PHF treat foreign tournament as fully-paid holidays, with ancillary staff and administrative heads joining the tour to take in the sights; this time around President Akhtar Rasool, secretary Rana Mujahid and Asif Bajwa and several other top officials tagged along despite being completely unnecessary to proceedings. This coupled with last minute employment shakeups and nepotistic appointments make the PHF a microcosm of institutionalised corruption.

While such immediate mismanagement is obviously a culprit the true cause of the decline is far older – one the government is keenly aware about yet is unable, or unwilling, to do something about. Once world hockey switched to Astroturf, an artificially created playing surface, Pakistan was left behind. Where other nations ensure their sufficient schools have an Astroturf field, Pakistan has no such provision; and as such only a handful of schools have a functioning Astroturf field – drastically cutting the supply of talented young players. The ‘revival’ plan that envisioned the setting up of 18 modern hockey academies around the country, is faltering due to lack of funds. Pakistan has had an illustrious hockey record, there was an age when world hockey was ruled by Pakistan; now it hasn’t even qualified for either the World Cup or the Olympics. This is the lowest point in PHF history.