Hockey World Cup 2018: Hasan Sardar lays down the law on players' behaviour even as Pakistan feel hassled by security detail
Going into the World Cup, the team management, headed by former Pakistan captain Hasan Sardar, has drawn a strict line against poor on-field behaviour for this squad.
Pakistan's hockey players are not too pleased with the security detail following them all the time. If they are feeling confined to moving around with the security personnel surrounding them all the time, it has a lot to do with the instance of 2014 Champions Trophy where their celebrations – after defeating India in the semi-final encounter – went over the top. Some obscenity was discovered in the gestures they made at the galleries and it led to suspensions and warning from the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Hockey India insisted on a written apology before even staging an FIH event featuring Pakistan.
A senior member of the squad complained to The Hockey Insider that they were feeling cramped with the intense security provided to them, while other teams had just a fraction of the security detail around them. After some elements announced they would protest Pakistan's appearance in Bhubaneswar, the Odisha state government and tournament organisers have increased the security around the Pakistan squad.
While the security may be intense and somewhat stifling, the Pakistan team's mood was lifted by the warm reception they received during the World Cup's opening ceremony. The cheers from the spectators were second only to those for the Indian captain, which ought to have reminded the Pakistani squad that the Bhubaneswar crowds had supported them even in 2014 until the encounter against India.
However, their "obscene" gestures in the celebrations after defeating India seemed to have rubbed the hockey fans the wrong way. It turned the entire crowd during the final in Germany's favour, and the Germans acknowledged it by applauding the spectators as "a home crowd" after winning the title. The flowers that the Pakistan team had thrown at the galleries were spurned. A few obscene gestures had done the damage.
Going into the World Cup, the team management, headed by former Pakistan captain Hasan Sardar, has drawn a strict line against poor on-field behaviour for this squad, insisting in the team meetings that earning applause from the Bhubaneswar hockey fans was among the achievable targets set for this tournament.
For a team that carries the tag of being four-time World Cup champions and failed to qualify for the 2014 edition, Pakistan's squad has been given a message that is loud and clear: "Bad behaviour will not be tolerated."
A legend of Pakistan hockey and the star centre-forward of the all-conquering team of the early 80s, the suave Sardar was appreciated around the world. His dazzling on-field skills of yore are matched by his composed behaviour as the team manager even in adverse situations. His choice as team manager – a designation Pakistan hockey gives to the boss as in football – could have a lot to do with the professed target of earning appreciation from Indian spectators
Returning to Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Hockey Stadium, the same venue, four years later, the Pakistan team has reasons to wonder if the spectators would have forgotten the incidents of 2014.
Drawing a line on the behaviour expected from his players, Sardar is eager to get the Bhubaneswar crowd behind the team. "Other than matches where we played India, the hockey fans of India had always rooted for Pakistan. My game was appreciated a lot by the Indian spectators who applauded us all the way to winning the World Cup in Bombay in 1982," says Sardar.
Before coming to India, this Pakistan squad was told by the team management that their behaviour will be under scrutiny.
In fact, just a month ahead of the World Cup, Sardar made the Pakistan Hockey Federation recall coach Mohammad Saqlain from the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat owing to his bad behaviour when asked not to abuse the players who had just lost to India in a league match.
Pakistani players told The Hockey Insider that Saqlain, a former captain, was screaming at the players when Sardar intervened and told him not to use harsh words as the boys were young and would learn from their mistakes. At this juncture, Saqlain used harsh words at the manager himself. It required just one phone call from Sardar for the PHF to ask coach Saqlain to board the first flight back home.
As the team manager, Sardar is aware that flowers cannot buy peace with the spectators after their on-field behaviour caused rancour. The Pakistan team manager wants applause to be earned for their dazzling play and good behaviour.
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The two nations have combined to deliver some of the most storied matches in the tournament's history, including the 1987 and 2011 finals, both won by the All Blacks.
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The 2022 World Cup will take place in Qatar, while the 2026 tournament is to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico.