RAWALPINDI - As many as 60 kids turned up on the inaugural day of the trials to select Punjab U-19 hockey team for the coming National U-19 Hockey Championship 2019 to be held in Karachi from January 20.

Former Pakistan-A goalkeeper M Yasin, who is also representative of Punjab Hockey Association (PHA) along with Abid, conducted the trials on the first day. Total 60 players from Rawalpindi, Wah, Gujar Khan, Sialkot, Mandi Bahhuddin, Gujranawala and adjacent areas were gathered at Shahnaz Sheikh Hockey Stadium at 11am. The trials continued the entire day, while players were told to come again today. The 20-minute matches were also played and all the youngsters were provided opportunities to showcase their skills and get a chance to get selected to represent Punjab in the National Junior Hockey Championship.

Punjab are given the choice of sending three teams, same as Sindh, while teams from KP, Fata, Kashmir and Islamabad will also take part in the championship. None of the PHA office-bearers bothered to witness the trials. Had Yasin and DSO Rawalpindi Abdul Waheed Babar not present on the venue, the youngsters would have faced huge problems. There was no one who could provide even drinking water to the players.

The venue was locked down for last two months as Sports Board Punjab (SBP) fired all the nine staffers hired to ensure maintenance of the ground, which was constructed with a whopping Rs 180 million and none other than former MNA M Hanif Abbasi played instrumental role in ensuring not only construction of hockey, but cricket, football, basketball and other sports facilities in the city.

The ground had floodlights installed, while water guns and highly sophisticated ground-cleaning machine, worth Rs 3.5 million, was also installed to ensure hockey ground maintenance must be given top priority, but after the formation of new government in the country. Same is the case with Shahnaz Sheikh Hockey Stadium, where state-of-the-art synthetic track is slowly getting out of shape. The turf is broken from various areas and no proper water is being given to the turf, which is destroying the entire turf.

When this scribe asked DSO Rawalpindi Abdul Waheed Babar about it, he said he requested SBP Director General time and again that he is well short of staff, as all the staff to look after the stadium was fired and he badly lacks manpower. “I have started working on the sideline of the stadium, as rain water has badly destroyed the synthetic turf from the sides. Now it is properly addressed, but it is not the permanent solution. We need staff to ensure the proper maintenance of the stadium and its security and safety.”

When PHA official Yasin was about the poor arrangements of the trials, he said: “I got Punjab Hockey Association letter two days ago. I made calls to relevant persons and I am sitting at the venue since 10am. We have observed every player and trust me, this region is blessed with great talent.”

 A few players from Wah and Mandi Bahuddin are exceptional and they are capable of representing the country, if properly guided and trained.”

To another query, he said: “We will shortlist 33 to 35 kids and final trials will be held in Lahore. We are expecting another 50 to 60 kids today. We want to check all before finalising the list.”