Empty hockey stadiums

The recent hosting of the World XI team for two landmark matches in Karachi and Lahore might not boost hockey’s popularity in the country because it left behind some bitter memories. The spectator stands were disappointingly vacant. One hardly expects the national sport of Pakistan to have such a meagre fan following. For the second match in particular there were barely four to five thousand people in the National Hockey Stadium of Lahore — which boasts a capacity of nearly 70,000 people. Conditions were far from ideal in Karachi as well for the first match, but owing to the size of the Abdul Sattar Edhi Hockey Stadium, a minor crowd did look enough. This is a sad reflection of the condition of the game in the country.

Even the visiting team’s Dutch captain and other hockey legends demanded more crowds and greater interest in the game. Nonetheless there was customary praise for the security arrangements and the hospitality of the people of Pakistan.

The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) must take a leaf out of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s plan where they hosted a World XI led by South African Faf du Plessis which witnessed full-house, jam-packed stadium in Lahore. Clearly the hockey federation must adopt a wiser, more wholesale approach for marketing such events. Hardly anybody knew that such an event was taking place in Karachi and Lahore.

The condition of the national sport is in tatters at the moment. Lack of funds, below-par performances of the national team in the past few years are a result of the ill-planning by the PHF, and now this event. The PHF needs to raise its game if they want to build more interest in the national sport, both infrastructure wise and in the marketing department too, otherwise, the stands which were empty during the recent tour will not be filled anytime soon.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2018.

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