“I will play hockey, only hockey and a lot of hockey” was the first thing that struck my mind when I received my posting orders to serve in the Embassy of Pakistan in Berlin, Germany from 2007 to 2010. Soon after settling down in Berlin, like a jobless person who needed a job desperately, I started looking for a sports club where I could play and experience the culture of sports in Germany, especially hockey given that Germany was, and still is, one of the giants in that sport. Within days, on my formal request, I received an invitation letter by the club management of “Berliner Sports Club e.V.” commonly known as “BSC”. The invitation package included forms and other formal documents required for membership to the club. I couldn’t wait for the moment and at the first opportune time, I made it to the club office which was surrounded by a number of lush green outdoor fields, filled with men and women of all ages dressed smartly in colorful sports attires. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Mr. Yanosha Krepner and Mr. Martin Steinhorst whom I later found out was the coach and captain of the team I would be playing in. After the completion of formalities, which also included a fitness test, trial and an interview, I experienced, with a mixture of amazement and delight, the efficiency with which the city sports organization and the club registered me as their bona fide member which basically meant that I could then take part in almost all sports events organized by them. “Wow!” I recall saying to myself, or something of that sort. I really was amazed and delighted. It was an honor for me to become a member of the “Berliner Sports Club e.V.” which was one of the oldest and most distinguished clubs in Berlin. The club had a glorious history. It was established by Mr. Carl Diem in the year 1895.As an institution, the club’s organization, traditions, and culture remained true to its name brand and reputation for over a century. It survived two devastating world wars, in both of which Germany was involved as a major country, and, more importantly, it survived successfully the long-drawn and suffocating Cold War during which Berlin became a major center of the Eastern Communist Block. It was something unheard of, something truly amazing for me. Ever since, a question has haunted me day and night: can we put in place sports institutions like BSC in a place like Balochistan?
Soon after becoming a member, I started my three-hour long weekly practice sessions with the “Young Old Boys” team of “BSC”. This team consisted of players in the 45 years-old-and-above age group. Occasionally, I was invited to play with teams of younger age groups: the under-16, under-19, under-24 and under-45 teams, mostly as a display of typical Pakistani style of hockey for the benefit of the youngsters in those teams, something that was new for most of them and about which they were curious too. They were very keen to experience it first hand and loved to play against someone that tackled and encountered them with utmost and rapid use of his wrists and stick – typical maneuvers or techniques in the Pakistani style of hockey – something of which they were very fond of. Often, they would show me their photographs with veteran star Pakistani players and the hockey sticks autographed by them. They also loved made-in- Pakistan brands of hockey sticks such as Ehsan, Karachi King and Grays, to name some of the well-known brands. It was astonishing to see in how high esteem they held Pakistani players of the recent past and their style of playing hockey and how sad they were about its present sorry state, or what was left of it then. As a gesture of reciprocity and goodwill, under the patronage of our ambassador in Germany, H.E. Shahid A. Kamal and courtesy of the Commercial Councilor Mr Khilji and M/s Ehsan Sports, the Embassy of Pakistan gifted BSC a complete kit for a summer season. Our gesture went very well. It promoted a soft image of the country in the sports community of Berlin, and this was at a time when Pakistan very much needed that image boost in a major city of a major EU country like Germany.
Just as they loved my play, my teammates also valued my critique and/or critical suggestions which I made from time to time for the improvement of individual players and the team as a whole. Since all of them had a deep understanding of the sport, and were playing at a high level, there was neither any objection to the criticisms nor any unnecessary defense of the mistakes or errors as perceived by the one doing the critique. There was a healthy, positive display of spirit that befits a true sportsman or sportswoman. The sheer display of discipline – their compassion for and dedication to the sport was exemplary. During all the years that I was there, I did not notice any non-serious attitude towards the sport by any of the players, regardless of age, experience or talent. Petty politics, unprofessional group rivalry, gossiping and foul play were something unknown to them. Everyone placed their team before self and played exactly according to the game plan as devised by the coach and the captain. There was a system to everything, from the very first stage of things to the final one. Our teams thus prepared themselves for the intra-city tournaments the matches of which were played on Saturdays. Sundays were reserved for free-for-all fun playing only. In short, I witnessed there a true sportsman spirit and all the qualities and values that make up that spirit: professional association and dedicated teamwork, unflinching and unwavering loyalty to one’s team above all else, and sincere love for one’s sport.
With the passage of time, as I played against several other teams and came across many fine players, I finally became conscious of the fact that all the teams were a fine blend of players from different cultural, ethnic, and possibly religious (of which no one ever talked about) backgrounds. The individual players came from all the segments of German society – from all walks of life – and all gelled together with the common love of their sport. In that kind of highly professional environment imbued with an ethos of egalitarianism, there was no room for prejudice and discrimination. The only status that mattered was that of the sportsman or sportswoman: it was enough to be a serious and dedicated sports person to qualify for that status. Everything else, your class, color, ethno-linguistic and religious affiliation, was not relevant on the field. After all, there I was: a Muslim-Pakistani on a job assignment in Germany playing alongside some of the best hockey players in one of the most prestigious sports clubs of Berlin, Germany.
After the matches were over, the players would invariably gather in the club houses called “Casino” for a debriefing session and light refreshments. During these sessions, my coach Mr. Yanosha, an archeologist by profession, my captain Martin, software expert and a dear team mate Andreas, a structural engineer, would tell me about the culture, traditions and history of hockey and sports and other great things about Berlin and Germany. Sensing the difficulty that I was having in learning the German language, my other team mate, Oliver, an editor of a journal, would often jokingly say, “Thank God, I am a born German and I don’t have to learn this language!” Such multicultural gatherings, normally called a multiculti gathering, were real fun that I still cherish. Everyone enjoyed an equal right and say in team affairs which were wholly and solely managed by the members themselves. Team members who could not assume permanent appointments would always compensate the lag with their occasional volunteer work. Our team, that quickly gelled together as a single unit was famous for its “Fight back spirit”. No matter how strong the opponents were, or how badly we were losing, no one would panic, give up or resort to unfair means but would play as per the game plan to the best of his abilities till the final whistle was blown. Even after losing, players would pat each other’s back with a smile and say well, we did our best. After all, games are not all about winning; it’s also about competing, doing one’s best and about learning. In fact, the fight back spirit is a hallmark of German sports and the culture in general. If one follows football matches, he would appreciate the number of times German national football team has turned the tables on their much powerful opponents during world cup matches.
Now, to come to my point about the relevance of this excellent culture of sports to our own situation in Balochsitan, I have this to say: if Balochistan is to excel in sports, or at least benefit from it in some meaningful way as a society, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. In the form of the German sports model that I have very briefly sketched above, we have a very good case study or a reference model that we may immensely benefit from as we try to learn from it, incorporate and amalgamate good aspects of it into our own good sports practices and traditions, of which we have had plenty in the recent past as I have argued in my previous articles on this topic.
The main difference between the two sports models lies in the realization of strengths like discipline, collective thinking, sincerity, merit, consistency and egalitarianism etc and importantly, the institutionalization of these qualities and virtues. Here, the Germans have proved very farsighted and creative. Their well thought out and consistent institutions spot the young talent early on through the intricate club sports system and turn them into world class athletes. On the other hand, unaware of our true potentials, we have failed to build such networks and institutions, and therefore could not harness our youth’s talent. Instead, we wasted – are still wasting – our energies in petty politics, mediocrity, nepotism, corruption, shameless self-promotion and tribalism and regionalism of all sorts etc. It needs to be stressed here that just muddling through obsolete and dysfunctional organizational and administrative frameworks is not going to lead us out of the present quagmire. It is, therefore, imperative for the government of Balochistan to sincerely acknowledge these shortcomings and seek remedial policies and action based on those policies.
One way to go about it is to either emulate a proven and successful model like the German institutional framework using local resources, both human and material, or seek their direct assistance for the setting up of a successful system for the revival of sports in the province. These can begin with the following, for example: institution building programs with the assistance of Germany for Balochistan’s popular sports, say, of football and hockey; programs for the capacity building of concerned officials and training of trainers and coaches through distant learning or visits (as far as possible). These will be the very first steps in the direction of revival of sports in Balochistan. In a future article I will try to explore these in much detail. For now, I am just hinting at the possibilities. These potentialities and possibilities have a good chance of becoming actualized and realized because, we Balochistanis, have had a great past in sports, especially in football, hockey and squash.
“And it is true, as many historians have reminded us that the past is where we often find the future”
The writer is a retired Air Commodore. Click here to read his previous articles.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author and Balochistan Voices not necessarily agrees with them.
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