LAHORE: Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has turned down an offer from International Hockey Federation (FIH) to play in Hockey Champions Trophy over ‘fear of defeat’.

Being the silver medalists in the last edition in 2014, the FIH had extended the invitation to Pakistan to play in the elite team event but Pakistan turned down the offer citing unpreparedness.

PHF secretary Shahbaz Senior said there was no point to send the team to Champions Trophy when it was expected to finish at the sixth place. “It would draw a lot of criticism and would affect the morale of the players and the feel-good atmosphere we got after winning the South Asian Games gold would also be destroyed.”

Pakistan are the only Asian champion, with three titles to their name including the first two in 1978 and 1980 and the last coming in 1994. In 35 tournaments so far, Pakistan had appeared in 31 events winning three golds, seven silvers and as many bronze medals.

This year’s Champions Trophy was originally scheduled to be held in Argentina but this week, the men's event was switched to London after the FIH cancelled its contract with the Argentine Hockey Confederation over a dispute about television rights contracts and sponsorship. The event will be held now at the London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park starting on June 10. The women's Champions Trophy will also take place in the same venue the week before.

Olympic champion Germany, who will be bidding for a hat-trick of Olympic titles in August in Rio having also won gold in Beijing and London, will defend their Champions Trophy title against Australia, Belgium, Britain, India and South Korea. Germany will open their campaign against India on June 10 when Britain face Australia in a repeat of the bronze medal match at London 2012 which Australia won 3-1.

Champions of the 2012 Summer Olympics Germany, triumphant of the 2014 World Cup and the 2014–15 World League Australia and winners of 2014 Champions Challenge-I South Korea directly qualified the event, which has again been reduced to a six-team affair. Since the 2011 edition, eight teams of each sex have qualified for the championship. The first edition had five teams, the second seven, 1987 had eight, and all other editions through 2010 had six. The fourth place went to hosts Great Britain while India and Belgium have been invited by the FIH.

Shahbaz Senior said the federation was focusing on Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where they were hoping to finish somewhere in the middle in eight-team event. “The Champions Trophy is also coinciding with the holy month of Ramazan and I don’t want to plan any activity in this month,” he added.

Pakistan’s South Asian Games gold medal winning White team coach and former captain Rehan Butt also seconded the PHF secretary’s views and said the poor performances at the international level drew a lot of criticism and the players’ performance and would deter their confidence which was high at the moment after winning the SAG.

It may be mentioned here that it was Pakistan White team, having the services of nine internationals, who had won the gold in SAG. They defeated arch-rivals India twice, though unconvincingly as India had only one senior player in their ranks as their captain.

Former Pakistan coach Shahnaz Sheikh, under whom Pakistan won the silver medal in Champions Trophy in 2014 after a gap of 16 years, said he was feeling proud over the invitation. “If the FIH has extended the invitation to Pakistan being the finalist of the last edition, then it is a matter of pride for me and the entire nation. Pakistan should not have turned down the offer as giving exposure to players is the only way forward.”

The sources in the PHF said that the current set-up in the federation wanted to play safe to establish their credibility and avoid the ire of the former Olympians and the masses.

“That’s why the federation has not planned any international event for the senior team in this year’s calendar except Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Instead, the federation has lined up a number of events for the junior team in Europe where millions would be spent without fearing the results,” the sources added.

They said there was also a divide among the PHF ranks on the issue as many thought that without giving the international exposure and playing against the best, the standard of the players could not be improved.

The snub has also did not bode well with the FIH and they had also conveyed their displeasure to the PHF for turning down the invitation. It may be go wrong in long way when the PHF is lobbying to bring back the international hockey activities in Pakistan and planning to hold a Hockey Super League, the goals in which the FIH is supposed to play the key role.

However, another former Olympian and legendary hockey player Samiullah termed the move wise one. “It is a wise move and now the onus is on the federation to use this money to improve the quality as well as pool of the players. It would be better, if Pakistan play in mega events through qualifying them rather than depending on the wildcard entries.”

He said the PHF should arrange the events for senior team against teams like Japan, South Korea and Malaysia and after that, the team should be exposed to the European heavyweights.