ISLAMABAD - The 1st National U-18 Hockey Championship 2016 will commence today (Sunday) here at Naseer Bunda International Hockey Stadium.

Speaking at the hurriedly-called press conference on Saturday at the PSB’s media centre, director tournament Col Ahmed Nawaz along with PHF secretary Shahbaz Senior and other officials informed the journalists that 16 teams from across the country would participate in the championship. “As many as 13 teams have already reached the PSB, while two teams will arrive on late Saturday night. Fata team has not informed about their participation despite they were sent letter two weeks ago. The teams have been divided into four groups and the tournament will be played on league basis while the final will be held on June 2. IPC minister Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada will inaugurate the championship at 5pm today (Sunday).”

Col Ahmed said three matches would be played on the inaugural day. “Keeping in mind hot and humid weather, we will decide about timings of the matches from day two.”

He rubbished the claims of some circles that it was junior event, not the senior one and they were not ready to give it importance. “I want to make them clear that it is the platform and we will get ample players from these events. I request all to help the PHF. Brig (R) Kahlid Sajjad Khokhar is a man of commitment as I know him personally and he is very well connected and highly passionate about hockey. Yes, he, at times, do get frustrated, but he needs support especially from the media, as sports journalists’ role in promoting sports cannot be denied.”

He said Shahbaz Senior was right man for the job of taking Pakistan hockey back to same old glory days’ heights, but for that he needed support from all. “Instead of creating hurdles and wasting time in blame games, we must unite for the cause of hockey.”

Col Ahmed said he had personally visited the PSB hostels, where the players and officials would stay. “I witnessed the toilets, accommodation and meal, which would be provided to the players. I want to take very good care of juniors, as they are future of Pakistan hockey. They deserve best facilities and let me assure all, I will not compromise on top class facilities for them. I have no lust of power, nor I am interested in the PHF post. My only aim is to do my job honestly and help Pakistan hockey flourish.”

“I am very thankful to PSB Director General for his all-out support for the national cause and charging very meager amount for accommodation, meal and other facilities.”

Sharing his views, Shahbaz Senior termed U-18 championship as an important step towards promoting hockey at grassroots level. “We want to work on three teams at a time i.e. seniors, juniors and U-18. Majority of people don’t know juniors will be taking part in Junior World Cup Hockey in India in December, while U-18 team will be participating in Asia Junior Cup in Muscat also in December.” When asked about scrutiny and how to determine ages of the players as lot of complaints had been witnessed regarding overaged players, Shahbaz replied: “We have taken the services of Dr Waqar from the PSB in this regard.

We will also thoroughly check from Nadra and use all available means to ensure genuine players allow participating in the tournaments. We will short list players after the tournament and will arrange training camp at suitable place keeping in mind weather conditions.”