Hockey is the national sport of Pakistan and it enjoyed a glorious past. Its retired players are still remembered because of their best performances in the playgrounds all over the world. The hockey team has proved its mettle in every title against the toughest opponents and has been the champion for a long time. There is a series of victories and gold medals in the Olympic. From 1960 to 1972 and then in 1984, the green shirts never left the ground without getting victory from the strong teams like Australia and West Germany. There was also a time when Pakistan had won all the titles; but from 1995 onward, a series of mishaps started which kept Pakistan out of all the main matches. This period continued till 2010 when it again got its position back in Asian Games. The people of Pakistan want to see its hockey team back to the position which it once possessed in the past. Through an exclusive interview with Khawaja Muhammad Junaid, Sunday Plus tried to find out some of the reasons which eclipsed the performance of hockey team for sixteen years. Khawaja Junaid had been one of the shining and most promising players of Pakistan hockey team. He won a bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and was also part of the team which won Champions Trophy in 1994. He has also served as a coach of national hockey team. Followings are some excerpts of his interview:

How do you perceive a sportsman?

A sportsman is in fact an ambassador or a representative of his country. He has more capacity and has a bigger platform to boost the image of his country than a politician has. He waves national flag and sings national anthem where it might not be possible for a politician.

Hockey is our national sport but it is not treated like that. What has gone wrong with it?

Hockey is our national game but it is not a public game. Compare it with cricket which is a public game and you will find the difference. Cricket has set a standard in the country. It is played in every nook and corner of the country. People are more aware about the cricketers and the luxury cars they have, further more they are also preferred for TV modelling. So, people at the grassroot level know that which game will give them more scope in the time to come. Whereas, when you talk about hockey, its whole structure has broken. It is no more played in educational institutions. It is neither surviving in schools, colleges and universities nor is there any quota left for it. No department is ready to offer job to a hockey player. In these circumstances how one could expect a gold medal from hockey player; rather people should appreciate those who are still playing it. Secondly, there is a big gap in Pakistan hockey. Pakistan won 1994 ‘Men's Champions Trophy’ and in 2010 it won ‘Asian Games’. In between these years it won no important title. The vacuum of these sixteen years will take time to be filled up.

It is said that today’s players play a routine hockey. What do you say about it?

A: I agree with it to some extent because now the players have lot more distraction besides their game. When a player goes home he has many activities to do. He has mobile phones, iPad, laptop, television and many more gadgets to indulge with at his home. All these things disturb the training of a player; whereas in the past players were less distracted and more focused on their game.

Although these distraction are also available for the players of the developed countries but what makes the difference is their professionalism. They are more responsible in their professional attitude than we are. For example, Lionel Messi is the most expensive football player in the world. People around the globe come to see his game. Can anyone think that he will eat burger a day before his match or he will sleep late at night; obviously not. Such professionalism is a self responsibility and as a nation we are lacking in it.

Are you satisfied with the present federation? Do you think its effort will be fruitful?

Yes, there is enthusiastic and determined leadership like Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa in the federation and things are improving and the efforts are being made in right direction. In the last 2 to 3 years, the federation has taken many steps like financial assistance to the players. It is because of these efforts Pakistan hockey team proved its mettle in Asia by wining Asian Games in 2010. Now we have won all the titles of Asia, be it Asian Championship or Azlan Shah Hockey Cup. A few years back we had not even these titles and had no achievement after 1994 Champions Trophy.

I am aware about the feelings of people who want that the team should also win international medals, but that is not possible at the moment. The international level is very difficult and for that a lot more needs to be done. The bridge between Asian level to International level is very long. There are very strong teams in the world like Holland, Germany, Australia, England, Belgium, New Zealand etc and there is no shortcut to compete with them. We cannot produce a good hockey player in a short period of time.

What do you suggest that how we can cover this bridge?

We need time to fulfil the gap of sixteen years which I mentioned before because during this time teams like Australia, Holland and Germany did not sit back to rest, but struggled hard for improvement. These teams are playing hockey above 90 percent and we are playing almost at 60 percent. Then there are other realities like an Australian player gets at least six years training in the academies. They get free food which is not any normal diet but specific which develops their muscles for sport; whereas in Pakistan, mostly players are coming from humble background. They do not have any awareness about the nutritious value of any diet and the facts that from which diet they should abstain from.

The good thing is that we can fulfil this 30 percent gap and Pakistani players have that potential; but we need resources which the federation cannot afford. In my humble opinion, to bring out the hockey talent we should give at least Rs.15000 stipend to its players who will have to join the main team afterwards. For that multinational companies in Pakistan should step forward and invest in this national game.

It is said that sports have become a science. Do you think coaching still plays an important role in it?

You are right when you say that sports have become a science but the role of a coach has increased than before. A team cannot perform well without a good coach. Let me explain it bit further that what are science and the role of good coaching in the changing scenario of the sports. There was a time when good team never lose but these days they often; this is because of science and good coaching. These days coaching is provided not only in the playgrounds but also indoors before projectors and big screens. Strong points and weak points are highlighted to the teams by showing them videos of the previous matches. Because of this science teams make their game plans with the help of their coaches before going to the playgrounds. So the role of coaching has become more technical and crucial. Now the coaching is also provided in diet, sleeping times, motivational talks etc.

What are the winning factors in a game?

Performance (hard work), good character and luck are three factors which make the winning combination. Lacking in any of these brings difficulty for the team. One should be good in the first two and the third follows them.

I tell you an incident. In 2012 Olympics I met an American athlete which used to be a champion of 200meter race. I asked her the reason of Jamaica’s victories in all the races; whereas her country had best infrastructure, coaches, weather and all the other essential resources. She replied me in these words, “They are more hard working”.

Where we lack in these?

There is missing somewhere. We are not with every player all the time. Secondly, good teams in the world have worked hard and have attained a certain standard. We wasted sixteen years in playing musical chair among the coaches and the players when the other teams were toiling from better to the best.

It is said that when hockey is low, the hockey family is not doing anything for it?

I agree with you. For the progress and the betterment, only the federation is not enough rather the support of people is also required; and especially the support of the hockey family. What is more important about the hockey family is that they should not speak against hockey realising the fact that it is the game which has given them respect and they are known because of it.

Can Pakistan come back into hockey?

A: Definitely, Pakistan will come back in hockey and will get back its lost glory. The federation has started to give fruits. Being a coach I need 100 to 150 quality players to keep their competition spirit alive for making place in the national team. When they will be struggling for that, at the same time they will be more professional and more responsible. Only then they will not indulge in any activity which will prove worse for their sport.

Any incident you want to share about 1994 Champion Trophy?

I have one incident to share that I think is very much important for the team. After winning the Champions Trophy in 1994, I met a family in Islamabad which was very happy at that victory. They said to me, “When you people were playing the match, we put the Holy Quran on television.” When I asked its reason, they replied, “Because in that way we feel that you people are playing under the blessing of the Holy Book and Allah Almighty.” Such incidents make one’s nationalism stronger and boost him to struggle more in the playground.