It’s not often that we get to meet our sporting heroes, and when we do, we’re often swept away in a wave of excitement, and sometimes, envy. Professional athletes at the very top of their game have the sort of life that most of us can only dream of living one day. But for the few minutes they spend in the spotlight, there are several years of personal trial, tribulation and sacrifice that these men and women go through. The sort of sacrifices that are not often seen by the public and are only known by the athletes and their inner circle.
Oman recently hosted the Asian Champions Trophy, which brought five of Asia’s top teams – India, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia – to play alongside host country, Oman. During the tournament, Times of Oman exclusively spoke to Muhammad Rizwan Sr, the current captain of the Pakistan hockey team, whose arrival into the sport was far later than many of his team mates.
“Actually, hockey was neither my first, nor was it my second choice of sport,” said Muhammad. “You know how popular cricket is in Pakistan and that was my first choice, and I was about seven or eight years old when I first began. I was a good spinner, I bowled well, and during my school tournament, I played really well. But in the final, I conceded three sixes in one over.
“I then thought to myself, what sort of game is this where one thing can decide the entire game. Then I began playing football when I was 16, and I left football because I kept getting hurt. It was a sport where it was important to be strong physically,” he added.
Muhammad Rizwan Sr. was not born into a life of luxury, but from an ordinary working-class family in Pakistan, and is testament to what hard work, passion and humility can help achieve. He hails from the tiny village of Pirmal, on the outskirts of Faisalabad. Shortly after finishing school, he decided to enter military service, a move that would change his life forever.
“I played volleyball for a while, but then I was invited to play a game of hockey, and I don’t know why, but I really took to it quickly,” he said. “Maybe it is because in my village, there is a very strong passion for hockey, and my brother used to also play the game, so I had some idea of hockey. At that time, I only knew how to hit the ball and how to stop it and nothing else, so that was the foundation of my game.
“I cannot explain this easily, but I found that I had the talent for hockey,” added Rizwan Sr. “Maybe it was a blessing of nature, but in the first two years of my playing the sport, I was drafted into the junior national team, and I myself was surprised, because there are so many people who have previously played hockey and haven’t gotten here.” But despite playing for the juniors, Rizwan’s parents were not amused by the amount of time he spent on the pitch. Much like any other Asian household, his parents too were of the mentality that studies came first; everything else could wait for later.
“My brother used to actually beat me, saying you must not play, you must study, but I used to sneak out and play hockey, and I think on some level he knew that I loved the game because he used to play it as well and he understood that,” he added. “My parents used to keep asking me why I was wasting my time by playing hockey.
“I was just doing my duty by playing the sport and I thought that any honour I get would be an added blessing,” he admitted. “At the end of 2009, there was a tour of Argentina, and I was told I was in the team. I told the selectors that they were joking with me, but this was no laughing matter. I was surprised that I was playing alongside all the legends of hockey.”
Rizwan’s parents may have played a major role in bringing him up with the values that have made him the person he is today, but above all, there is one guiding force that he holds precious above all else. When he was selected as captain of the national team, he knew there was one person he first needed to thank above all others.
“I am captain today because of the blessings of God,” he said. “When I became captain, I told myself that this was something I had been blessed with, and that this is something I need to do well. I had never thought I’d become captain of my country or even play for Pakistan. I had seen our legends like Rehan Butt play whenever I watched them on TV, but I never thought that I would one day be given the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.”— [email protected]