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At last Pakistan hockey was able to make some waves. Generally cricket has been able to overshadow the national game almost completely, but even though Pakistan was giving the Sri Lankans greenwash after greenwash in the shorter and the shortest versions of the game — and that included a fly-in-fly-out visit to Lahore — hockey somehow managed to grab its share of media attention, if not focus. Which is apparently great. Great? Well, let’s see.

Though a bit of ‘Me-Tooism’ provided the bulk of the glare, initially the ball was set rolling at the Asia Cup. Held in Bangladesh, the continental tournament saw the team on the victory stand as the bronze-medalist ahead of five other competing outfits. It could have been much worse for Pakistan was able to make the Super-4 cut by the skin of their teeth, edging out Japan on the basis of a better goal average, even though both had the same points tally at the end of the first round. In the second round, they lost two of the three matches and got themselves booted out of a place in the final, but came back strongly to beat South Korea and clinch the bronze.

Of the seven matches it played at the Asia Cup, Pakistan won only two, beating Bangladesh in the first round 7-0, and South Korea in the third-place playoff 6-3. There were two drawn games against Japan in the first round 2-2 and South Korea in the Super-4s 1-1. And there were three defeats; two of them at the hands of India; one each in the two stages 1-3 and 0-4, and one against Malaysia in the Super-4s 2-3.

Hockey recently left cricket behind in terms of media spotlight. A debatable performance, a retirement and then a bit of Me-Tooism provided the kind of attention the national game could have done easily without

It is to the credit of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) that it didn’t try to make much of the bronze-medal finish for it had come on the basis of two victories in seven encounters. It is the kind of restraint that is not generally practised in the country. And it is even more remarkable at a time when the PHF bosses really needed some positive media exposure in the face of a couple of negative off-the-field elements that hogged the limelight.

First it was the retirement of former captain Haseem Khan who held the PHF responsible for the dismal state of the game in the country, and accused it of being “biased” and “having syndicates within the selection committee.” The chief selector, Hasan Sardar, had his own rebuttal, calling for the disciplinary committee to move against the player for going public with his grumbles. What a committee — any committee — can do against someone who has already thrown in the towel is something that was not of much consideration for Sardar, who talked of the “poor performance” of the player as the sole reason behind his non-selection.

Haseem countered the impression by calling it a “pretext.” His performance during his last few outings in national colour, he insisted, was there for all to see. “If I had lacked anywhere, I wouldn’t be holding this press conference,” he reportedly remarked. All Sardar could say was that, being a former great of the game, he knew it better. And when an argument takes that route, you can easily sense something pungent, something putrid, something rotten in the air.

While Sardar got away with a victimisation charge, Saeed Khan, a senior contemporary, had to face harassment allegations. Going strictly by accounts that have already been published and not denied, it appears that Sardar owes it to his good luck that he happened to be dealing within his own gender. That Saeed was aggressive is a possibility, but the environment created around the episode — that of harassment — has a touch of the ‘Me-Too’ effect that is an offspring of the much more grave — and, indeed, unpardonable — Weinstein phenomenon.

In what many see as resurgent feminism, even a social media friend request has landed people in trouble of late, and if Saeed Khan is hurled down the path to join the famous-infamous-but-anonymous doctor as a lecherous individual with no scruples, it will be a travesty of justice.

If the accuser wants an inquiry committee, let there be one. By insisting on not having one, the PHF is only making perceptions prevail over facts.

Before taking sides one way or the other, it is essential to understand the dynamics of life within a profession; any profession. Showbiz practitioners, for instance, often complain that people get judgmental without realising that they happen to be in a profession where ‘touchy-feely’ existence is the norm. Likewise, sports — any sports anywhere — has a life that is much more physical than people at large would struggle to even imagine. It is all fair game for all concerned unless there is some venereal undertone to it. And, before we forget it, that has not been the case here, and the coach has not even been accused of nurturing or expressing that intent. It is mass hysteria on social media that is blurring the lines.

The fault, however, lies with the PHF. If the accuser wants an inquiry committee, let there be one. By insisting on not having one, the PHF is only making perceptions prevail over facts. And just in case the facts go against the coach, let him face the music. It is really difficult to understand why the PHF wants to take the burden upon itself.

When people talk of media attention, they generally have positive connotations in mind. It is the proverbial shot in the arm but with the kind of attention the PHF has got in the last couple of weeks, it has clearly got the wrong shot in the wrong arm.

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Published in Dawn, EOS, November 5th, 2017

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