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The Green Shirts

The Green Shirts

Issue 99 December 2012

Some people may be surprised to learn that the national sport of Pakistan is field hockey, not cricket as you would expect. Ali Khimji charts the journey that the national team has been on since its first participation at the 1948 Olympics Games.

For a country that is mad about cricket, it is quite a surprise to find out that the national sport of Pakistan is field hockey. And given the national team’s recent disappointing performances, you could never have guessed that Pakistan is one of the most successful teams in international competition and still holds a few records. So where did such interest for the sport initially stem from? Although there are reports of a hockey-like sport being played in Ancient Greece in 200BC and a similar version in East Asia during the same time period, modern field hockey was born in the English public schools of the 19th century. From there, it spread throughout the British Empire, and was adapted to become ice hockey in Canada. In British India, hockey became very popular amongst the local population, along with cricket.
Field hockey made its debut in the Summer Olympics at the 1908 London Games. Great Britain won the first two gold medals, with field hockey not on offer at the 1912 and 1924 Games, but from 1928, India dominated the sport winning six gold medals in a row. Before the 1948 Games, players from what is now Pakistan played for the India team, so it wasn’t a surprise to see Pakistan come fourth in their first two Olympics when they participated as their own country. At the 1956 Games, India and Pakistan faced up to each other in the final, with India squeezing out a 1-0 win. The teams met again in the final four years later in Rome, where Pakistan was able to break India’s monopoly on the sport in another 1-0 win through a Naseer Bunda goal. Unsurprisingly, they played each other once more in the following final, but the result went India’s way with a third 1-0 win. Most hockey fans would have predicted a fourth consecutive meeting between India and Pakistan at the 1968 Games, but it wasn’t to be as India lost to Australia in the semi-finals. Pakistan still got to the final and beat Australia to record their second gold medal in field hockey. Pakistan reached two more finals after this; the 1972 and 1984 Games, where the won silver and gold respectively. India only participated in one further final at the 1980 Games, where they beat Spain to win gold.
Like football, field hockey has its own World Cup that is held every four years and organised by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Pakistan’s Air Marshal Nur Khan proposed the initial idea for the tournament in the late 60s, so the FIH decided to hold the inaugural Hockey World Cup in Pakistan in 1971. However, the Bangladesh Liberation War had broken out some months before the tournament, and furthermore, many prominent Pakistanis protested when their country invited India to participate in the tournament, given that the countries had been at war a few years earlier. For this reason, the tournament was moved to Barcelona, Spain, and Pakistan beat India on the way to the final, where they overcame the host nation to win the trophy. Pakistan went on to win the Hockey World Cup three more times and are still the most successful team in its history. The most recent victory in 1994 came at a time when Pakistan were world champions in four different sports at the same time: cricket, snooker, squash and hockey.
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