Victorious hockey team honoured by Punjab CM


LAHORE: Pakistan hockey team, winner of Asian Games hockey event, was on Sunday awarded Rs10 million in a reception hosted by Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, at the CM House.
The Chief Minister presented cheques of Rs 500,000 each to all the members of the hockey team and also promised his full support to PHF President Qasim Zia in the team’s preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Mian Shahbaz Sharif termed the hockey players as the shining stars of the country and vowed to lay a new Astroturf for the promotion of the game in Lahore apart from considering a raise in the annual grant of the PHF.
A number of former Olympians and government officials including Khawaja Aslam, Afzal Mana, Akhlaq Ahmed, Rana Mujahid, Muhammad Usman, Manzoor Junior, Mohammad Qadir, Qasim Khan, Aamer Cheena, Arshad Chaudhary, Mohammad Sarwar, Col Zafar Zafri, Khalid Rasool, Secretary Sports Ahmed Nawaz, Sports minister Dr Tanveerul Islam and Niva Usman were among the dignitaries present to cheer the team.
The evening not only brought Olympians, former international hockey players and government officials together but also made the leaders of two rival parties – Pakistan Peoples Party and Muslim League – sit together to cherish the moment of glory.
Interestingly the Punjab government did not give the cash awards from its own pocket but lured some of the MPAs and businessmen to contribute the bounty for the gold winning hockey team.
Shahbaz termed the win to be of great significance at a time when the nation is fighting several problems like floods, foreign dictation, drone attacks on innocents, raise in electricity, oil and sugar prices and above all the challenge of corruption.
“It has come as a twilight in this time of challenges,” he added. “I must also praise these players who despite having little international exposure due to terrorism in the country won the gold medal,” he said.
The Chief Minister in addition praised Qasim Zia, goalkeeper Salman Akbar, youngest player of the team Mohammad Tauseeq and Sohail Abbas and asked the players to keep trying for more glory.
Qasim Zia asked the government to help strengthen the institutions in order to bring home more successes. He also demanded a raise in PHF’s annual grant to Rs100 million. “We have started out the journey towards glory and with hard work and dedicated efforts more successes will come our way,” he added.
Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan captain Zeeshand Ashraf said it was only due to the hard work of the team and prayers of the nation that they stand triumphant today and asked the government for financial support and development of infrastructure. Later the players along with team officials were given cash awards while PHF President and Secretary were awarded shields.
Earlier, upon its arrival on Saturday night at the Allama Iqbal International Airport, the national hockey was given a warm welcome by cheering fans and families of the players. Talking to media, senior members of the Pakistan hockey team expressed their desire to continue playing for the country till the 2012 London Olympics.
They felt the Asian Games triumph has motivated them to press for more laurels before saying adieu to the game. Senior players including Zeeshan Ashraf, Sohail Abbas, Mohammad Wasim and Rehan Butt also lashed out at critics who have been of the view that they should now retire from the game.
Pakistan captain Zeeshan Ashraf said he was overwhelmed by the celebrations and joy the Asian games victory had brought to the Pakistani people.
“Winning the gold medal was a big high and the welcome we got today is amazing. I am thankful to God that he gave me the honour of leading the team to the victory,” he said.
Pakistan’s ace penalty corner specialist and goal scorer in the final, Sohail Abbas said the tough match against India had put the players in the right frame of mind for the knockout games. “The matches against India and Korea were really hard and when we went into the final we were confident we could beat Malaysia,” Abbas said.
The veteran said he was ready to play for the national team as long as his services were needed, may be even up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Goal-keeper Salman Akbar lashed out at the critics who think the seniors should retire. “I think it’s extremely sad that people think we are going to retire after that,” Akbar said. “We won the gold medal just for people to say that we aren’t needed anymore?”
Rehan Butt stated all senior players are physically fit and have no intention to retire.”All the seniors are physically fit and working hard for the London Olympics,” said Butt. “I’m practicing regularly so that I am sure of a spot in the team for the event in 2012.”