1- What were the targets PHF set for the Hockey Champions Trophy before the team left for India?
Top ranked teams were coming to play in the tournament, so realistically speaking, considering the adverse circumstances we faced during our preparation, chances of even a semifinal berth seemed low. Top ranked European teams, Australia and Argentina were in good shape and were ranked much higher than Pakistan.
2- How do you see green-shirts overall performance in the tournament?
Although the young and inexperienced team started badly in the tournament, losing all three pool matches but they rose from ashes like a phoenix to beat The Netherlands in quarterfinals. The victory came as a great news for us. But the big victory, which we waited for years was our team’s semifinal victory against India. Our boys performed marvelously when it mattered the most.
3- Pakistan has a glorious past in hockey, then why a silver medal in Champions Trophy is considered as a big achievement?
We reached the tournament’s final after a lapse of 16 years, the fact that could tell what this performance meant for us. We haven’t played top international teams for years which means many players in the squad lacked international exposure. Moreover, there were many youngsters in the squad. Considering all these facts, the performance in the tournament should be highly cherished. Although green-shirts are still counted among top teams if we talk about track record. But the time, when we ruled the game of hockey, has passed long time ago.
4- India is ranked only two places above Pakistan at Number 9 in international rankings, then how the victory is considered as a huge feat?
The Indian hockey team has experienced side who have been regularly been playing against and with international teams and players either in bilateral tournaments or in their own lucrative league, in which top international players participate. While our team, as I have told you they lack international experience. Many players were playing for the first time in front of hostile Indian crowd, who were chanting anti-Pakistan slogans and provoking our players. So odds were against us but our boys did great. It was a great performance.
5- What do you have to say about all the drama that followed after the semifinal match between Pakistan and India, regarding Pakistan team’s controversial celebration?
The incident has been blown out of proportion. Every team has a right to celebrate their victory. We have seen players taking off their shirts and making impolite gestures in front of crowd in almost every sport though it be hockey, football or cricket. There was nothing that wrong with that that the Indians turned it into.
6- Hockey India (HI) Chief Narinder Batra said as he called it ‘uncouth behavior’ were against Indian culture and values and asked FIH to come hard on Pakistan players?
Oh come on! don’t tell me that. I have seen Indian heartthrob cricketer Virat Kohli popping middle finger and former cricketer Saurav Ganguly taking off his shirt. And much more often I have seen Salman Khan taking off his shirt. First the Indian hockey chief need to open his eyes and then tell others what Indian culture and values are.
7- Do you justify the way our players celebrated?
What I say is, our players should have restrained a bit. But given the circumstances that our young players were ridiculed throughout the match and the crowd even chanted anti-Pakistan slogans, I don’t think anyone, anyone with some dignity was not hurt. Our young players were hurt and they responded after winning the match. The Tournament Director knew the whole situation and reasons why Pakistan players were so frenzied after the victory. He therefore closed the chapter after Coach Shahnaz Sheikh extended an apology on his players’ behalf.
8- So you think that banning a couple of our players for the incident was wrong?
The decision to ban our players was outrageously wrong. I have been with World Rule Board of FIH for seventeen years. I know each and every clause and the decision to ban players for the incidence cannot be justified according to FIH laws. The FIH decision came only after India threatened that it would not host any international events. Had the tournament been held in Europe or Australia, India wouldn’t have been able to do any such thing. FIH wanted to complete the tournament properly and therefore they came under pressure of India. Moreover, India hosts many FIH tournaments and generates much money for FIH, therefore FIH failed to follow its own rules and gave a decision to appease cash-rich Hockey India. PHF should protest against the decision at a proper forum. PHF should protest against the decision at a proper forum.
9- Indian pressure on FIH worked for them as two Pakistan players were eventually banned for a match just hours before Pakistan’s final match against Germany. Will such a bias decision will not hurt hockey?
It has hurt hockey badly as the final match of high voltage Hockey Champions Trophy was decided out of field rather than on the field. Our players went through the trauma of Indian persecution and swords were hanging on them when they must be strategizing and focusing on their final against Germany. Had India accepted their defeat in good spirit and let the things calm down after Shahnaz tendered an apology, I believe we would have defeated Germany to clinch the title. But Hockey India resorted to plot against us in order to save their own faces after losing to Pakistan. Hockey India knew that if Pakistan wins the title, they would come under immense public pressure since they have been spending a lot on their hockey. So to divert the attention of media and hockey fans in India, they waged a conspiracy campaign against Pakistan’s bright Champions Trophy title prospects. But all these Indian-led controversy and dictation to FIH will not in any way serve hockey. After the ridiculous decision, it looks International hockey is a slave to one single country.
10-Eventually Pakistan’s giant-killing run in knockouts came to an end in the final against Germany, who clinched the title. How do you see the final?
Had our players were not plotted and entangled into controversy, I am sure our players would have taken the momentum of their quarter and semifinal triumphs into the final and would have won it. Although we lost the final of Champions Trophy on paper, I our young Pakistan team has won the title in the hearts of their nation after beating in the semifinals!