(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) They had seen some of the best days of hockey in Oman, the glorious decades of sixties and seventies.
Among the 35 odd veteran Omani hockey players who gathered at Park Inn Hotel on Monday night for an informal gathering, many had been part of hockey's popular days in the sultanate when it was the undisputed No 1 sport.
Those were the days when the craze for football in Oman hadn't even picked up. Those were the days when thousands of fans used to brush aside the scorching summer's heat to walk miles to watch their favourite teams battle it out on dust bowls in Muttrah and Muscat, perched on hilltops and houses.
During that time, there used to be intense rivalry among teams like Shaheen, Red Flag, Union, Taki Sport, Lala, Muttrah Tuyian, Muttrah Sport, Mission Hospital, Al Ahli and Eagles. And to go with the high level of competition, fan bases used to be huge as well.
As hockey veterans from these clubs, some of them now in their late seventies, assembled for Monday's gathering as part of the Oman Hockey Association's (OHA) initiative, the common talking point among them was quite obvious - the current decline of hockey in the country.
Of course, Oman has never been a major force at the Asian level. But hockey in the sultanate did attract thousands of fans as the sport was quite aggressively pursued by many clubs till the late seventies.
The competition among teams used to look quite solid back then. There was regular participation from 15 to 18 clubs in the domestic hockey league as well as in the prestigious His Majesty's Cup. Understandably, it was no surprise when the veterans were seen expressing their deep concern over the current plight of hockey in Oman - pursued these days by as few as just seven or eight clubs.
The gathering was an initiative of the newly-formed veteran players' committee of the OHA, which is headed by former national team player and ex-Ahli-Sidab star, Mohammed Shambeh al Raisi.
Speaking to Muscat Daily, H E Naif Obaid al Salami, the first chairman of the OHA in 1983, said, ''It is a nice start, but this should have been done long ago. As former players and administrators who served the game with distinction, we are concerned about the decline of hockey. It was once the most popular sport in Oman. The OHA should take responsibility for the current state of affairs.''
Right: Salim Rajab speaks