Pakistan’s national hockey team has not been invited for the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup by the Malaysian Hockey Confederation. Our national team has been an active participant in the tournament since its inception in 1983. We have been the winners in 1999, 2000 and 2003, and runners up six times.

The tournament is supposed to be staged in April this year. Last year, Pakistan finished 6th after beating Canada 6-1. We’ve played a key role to promote hockey in Malaysia, thus the snub is being felt in Pakistan. No statement has been released by the confederation as to why this decision was made.

This is a huge setback for our national team as they are already facing a very hard time keeping the sport alive. There is non-availability of funds; salaries cannot be paid to Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) employees, travelling costs of the players are not covered, PHF annual grant is not handed over to them, and there is a serious lack of sponsors. We missed a series in India this year because the administration failed to meet the FIH deadline for the visa application. The overall environment does not encourage the growth of our national sport.

Just like football cannot be imagined without Brazil currently; once hockey could not be imagined without Pakistan. Today, we fail to even qualify for the Olympics and have fallen to number 13 in the international rankings. Where are today’s Shahbaz Ahmed, Hasan Sardar and Shahid Ali Khan? The reality is that nobody wants to watch a weak team play.

This is where we stand and the World Cup is not very far away. Our team needs to be in the best possible shape. The hockey federation should not have been relying on this particular tournament for preparation, as they claim. It is a blessing that Spain has agreed to play a four-match test series with us in May. Funds need to be allocated to the PHF, so that proper preparations can be done.