LAHORE - Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) president Chaudhry Akhtar Rasool has said that participation in international hockey events before Olympics qualifiers has certainly brightened up the national team’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Akhtar Rasool said: “Pakistan team has competed in the four-nation hockey tournament in Hobart, Australia while the team has also been playing a four-match test series against Korea in Korea. After participating in the training tours, Pakistan will feature in the next month’s Rio Olympics qualifier in Belgium and I hope training tour in South Korea will help provide the much-needed confidence to the players for Olympic qualifiers and the team’s chances are quite bright.”

“We have given chances to the youngsters who are getting much-needed international exposure which will help them play well against the tough opponents and especially during the Olympic qualifiers. We can also recall our two players who have been playing in a foreign league but we didn’t do so rather preferred to provide youngsters chances to groom and excel. I hope our players will play well during the Olympic qualifiers and gave good news to the nation by qualifying for the Rio Olympics,” the PHF chief said.

Terming Zimbabwe team’s tour to Pakistan a great breakthrough, Rasool said: “Zimbabwe team’s successful tour will bear fruit in shape of revival of international sports in the country. After Zimbabwe, not only more cricket teams will visit Pakistan, but also other sports teams shall come and play here.

“We are also in verbal talks with International Hockey Federation (IHF) to help us revive international hockey in Pakistan. “During the Olympic qualifiers, we will tell the teams about Zimbabwe tour and invite them to play in Pakistan and also communicate properly with the IHF in this regard,” he added.

Lauding the efforts of Tauqeer Dar Hockey Academy (TDHA) for the promotion of the national game in the country, Rasool said: “My presence and witnessing the players training here are good enough to prove that a high quality hockey is being taught here and the players have been training well under the watchful eyes of Olympian Danish Kaleem and his team. I hope the academy will continue providing quality players to the national team as it had done in the past as a good numbers of academy players have been representing the country and earning good name for the academy as well as the country.”

Recalling the old glory days of hockey, Rasool said that during their era, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was sponsoring the players very well while other prominent sponsors and players’ caretakers were Wapda, Police, Customs, Railways, banks and others. “Unfortunately, the sponsors have not been taking care of the players like they used to do in the past and also not giving jobs to secure their future, so in such circumstances when it is too tough to meet their basic needs and bread and butter, it is very difficult for the players to give their best.”

He urged Prime Minister Mian M Nawaz Sharif, who himself is a sportsman and diehard sports lover, to give attention to the national game which has been suffering due to acute shortage of funds. “If provided with appropriate funds, the PHF assures Pakistan hockey will flourish and regain its past glory.”