ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) officials and team management have urged Prime Minister to have some mercy on the national game and release special grant soon to gear up hockey which is back on track and capable of winning laurels for the country.

They said this during a grand reception hosted by National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) here at a local hotel on late Wednesday night to honour Pakistan hockey team, which won silver medals in the Asian Games as well as Champions Trophy. PHF president Chaudhry Akhtar Rasool, secretary Rana Mujahid, chief selector Islahuddin Siddiqui, head coach Shahnaz Sheikh, national team players, former Olympians, Army Sports Directorate secretary Col Bodla, Pakistan Disabled Sports Association (PDSA) chairman Sheikh Abdul Waheed, secretary Nasir Mehmood Chaudhry, Col Junaid along with other dignitaries were present on the occasion.

Speaking on the occasion, PHF president Akhtar Rasool said: “We have already missed high-profile events and there is every possibility we can miss Olympic qualifiers as well, if bail-out package is not released by next month.”

He congratulated the players, chief selector and head coach for exceptional performances despite crunch financial situation. “I fully realise how difficult it is for the players to play for the country without getting incentives. If all the stakeholders perform their duties accordingly and work as a unit, there will be no issue and things will run in the right direction, but for that, all of us including the prime minister have to work with sincerity, dedication and have to understand the ground realities.”

“I request the PM, who is also PHF patron, to save the national game as any further delay in release of grant will end Pakistan hockey golden era. We are working day and night for the national cause, but I am very disappointed due to no meeting with the PM yet which is the dire need of the hour. Sheer frustration is creeping in the players and the federation with each passing day, if clear-cut policy is not adopted, I fear, all our past achievements will only be recognised in history books,” he added.

The PHF chief announced Umra package for entire Champions Trophy-bound squad. “The team and officials will depart for performing Umra by February 23, as for going on religious journey, one doesn't need funds or money, only thing required is invitation from the holy place.”

Sharing his views, PHF secretary Rana Mujahid said: “Hats off to coach, chief selector and players for producing excellent results, but they were only playing on grounds while all the related work was responsibility of PHF president and mine. We have worked tirelessly to arrange funds, as all are fully aware of the fact that we don't have any means of generating funds so we have no option but to look at government in this regard. Other federations have hundreds of employees, but the PHF has the lowest work force as we have only 35 and have to look after hockey stadium as well. No one can even think about running the federation affairs in such limited strength.

“We request the PM, IPC Minister and secretary and PSB Director General to get the draft signed which is lying on the PM's table for more than one year. Rs 500 million is not more than a meager amount for government, but it means a lot for the federation. We can completely change fortunes of the national game, if grant is released. We have decided to immediately restore school, college and university level hockey events, and camps will start very soon in this regard. We have a number of plans, and our efforts are already bearing fruit, but this cannot be possible without funds. I hope the PM will not waste further time and the grant for the PHF will be released soon,” Rana added.

Sharing his views, chief selector Islahuddin said: “We have played our part in selecting a formidable squad after traveling from one end of the country to another, conducting trials of more than 600 players, but now the next task is to provide these players maximum opportunities so they may win laurels for the country. Without playing in international events, how it can be possible for coach to improve international rankings? We need funds on war footings to get our hockey back on track.”

Sharing his views, head coach Shahnaz Sheikh attributed green shirts performance to their dedication, hunger and sheer will to excel at the top. “No one could imagine what I had to face in India, hostile media, aggressive people and rude Indian Hockey Federation officials made me sick for their defeat in the semifinals and they were at our backs till we lost the final of the Champions Trophy from Germany. It is my challenge, if the final is replayed at any given venue except India, we could beat Germany by at least 2 or 3 goals margin.

“We had missed a number of high-profile events, until PM releases special grant. The PSB Director General should at least issue directives of handing over the cash incentives to players as per government criteria of finishing on podium in Asian Games and Champions. It could at least inflict some sigh of relief on players and management. I am not part of any institution, I also deserve incentives who would announce incentives for me, I deserve better treatment,” he added.

Meanwhile, NBP handed over Rs 250,000 cheques to seven national team players and NBP coach Abu Zarr representing the bankers. Players include Arsalan Qadir, Ali Shan, Amjed Ali, Kashif Shah, Rizwan Junior, Tauseeq Ahmed and Dilbar Hussain.

The PHF president urged other departments whom players were representing to announce cash incentives for other players as well. “We have written to their respective departments and hopefully, they will also get the awards very soon.”

It is pertinent to mention here that the sources inside Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) have confirmed to this scribe that the PSB had sent a summary to the PM House Thursday requesting to release bailout package by mid February or else Pakistan team could not participate in the Olympic qualifiers. An inside source in the PSB had confirmed that summary had been sent on urgent basis and it is hoped bailout package would be approved very soon he refuse to disclose the amount of the package.