Obituary – Zakir Hussain Syed

Sad loss to many sports
Friday, April 12th, 2013

HWC member Ijaz Chaudhry writes affectionately about his late friend, and great friend of hockey, exclusively for our Website.



01.11.39 – 21.03.13

It was on the 19th of March when I had a telephonic conversation with Zakir Syed. He had just returned from Malaysia after watching the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and seemed very despondent about Pakistan’s poor performance and spoke at length about the team's shortcomings.               

Just two days had passed when I saw the breaking rather the heart-breaking news of Mr Zakir’s sudden demise while on his routine evening stroll in Islamabad’s biggest park not far from his home.

Zakir Hussain Syed, affectionately called Zak, was an internationally renowned sports administrator, broadcaster and journalist.

Born in the town of Sialkot, known world over for its sports goods manufacturing industry, he developed a love for sports early in his life. Zakir had his initial schooling at Rawalpindi’s Denny’s High School, alma mater of quite a few hockey greats including the legendary Naseer Bunda, scorer of Pakistan’s historic gold medal winning goal at the 1960 Olympics. 

Zak completed school education at the Cadet College, Hasan Abdal, one of the premier residential public schools of Pakistan which houses excellent sports facilities. So it was no surprise, Zak developed interest in sports from an early age. Still, after completing his Masters from the Punjab University, he started his career, not in sports but in education. He began teaching at the Lawrence College, Ghora Gali, also a well-known public school. Those days, education, tourism and sports all came under one ministry. Endowed with multiple talents, Zak served in all the three departments and rose to eminence in each. He became the Director General of Federal Directorate of Education and also served as the Deputy Managing Director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.

But it was sports, his first love, which earned him international acclaim. He was the youngest and the most successful Director General of Pakistan Sports Board. In 1976, Zak was instrumental in organising international tournaments in six major sports in Pakistan in connection with Pakistan’s founder Quaid-i-Azam’s centenary celebrations, culminating in the thrilling 10-Nation hockey competition participated by almost all the leading hockey countries. During his tenure, Pakistan’s medal haul at the Asian Games of 1978 (4 gold, 4 silver and 9 bronze) hasn’t been bettered since. In fact, it remains the country’s best performance in the Asiad for the last 50 years. He also played a key role in the construction of the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad; till today the country’s biggest multi-sport facility. Later, in 1989, he was one of the main forces behind the spectacular holding of the SAF (South Asian Federation) Games in Islamabad when Pakistan hosted the regional sports gala for the first time.

Zakir’s excellent administrative skills were also utilised outside Pakistan. He served as the Development Manager, Asian Cricket Council from 2000 to 2004. Then he proceeded to Dubai where he acted as the consultant in the setting up of the Dubai Sports City. A person no less than the chief executive of the ICC requested Zakir for assistance in setting up the first global cricket academy, in Dubai. A much liked personality, he always enjoyed close relations with the heads of many global sports federations. Hockey was his special love. The International Hockey Federation’s top brass often sought his advice in various matters including the changes in rules.  As a sports broadcaster and analyst, he had the enviable ability to speak and write about almost any sport, from hockey to volleyball to boxing. For over 40 years, he compered, commentated and also coordinated sports programmes on the Pakistan TV, Radio Pakistan, BBC and Ten Sports. His views were always candid and logical. Hockey fans still remember the emotional but balanced comments on TV/ radio on many occasions when  Zak held the mike in the last minutes of the finals won by Pakistan at the World Cups, Olympics, or Asian Games  during the old glory days. It won’t be wrong to state: Zak was the face and voice of hockey in Pakistan for more than four decades. He frequently contributed to hockey magazines including that of the FIH.                                                                                                                                                               England’s ‘Cricketer International’ the world’s leading cricket monthly, acquired Zak’s services as their Pakistani correspondent for more than 30 years. In the Pakistani press, readers always enjoyed his interesting and informative articles in leading national English and Urdu dailies. In fact, his last piece, on the recent edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, appeared in a newspaper the day after his demise.

The awards, he received for his invaluable services to sports include President’s Medal for Pride of Performance (one of the highest civil awards conferred by the government of Pakistan); first ever recipient in the category of Sports Management and Administration. Outside Pakistan, Zak was honoured by both the ICC and ACC with Lifetime Achievement Awards. 

Very few of us know, he also played first class cricket. Zak’s job commitments meant his career, comprising nine first class matches, was spread over as many as eleven years. A medium pace bowler and middle/lower middle order batsman, his debut was for the PIA in 1962-63. His team mates included eight test cricketers. Just look at some of the names: Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Saeed Ahmad and Intikhab Alam; all Pakistan’s test captains.                                                                                                                                                                               His love for sports knew no limits. A few years back, Zak donated ten acres of prime agriculture land in his native place near Sialkot for a sports complex. 

Tall and elegant with a humble demeanor, he always wore a big smile. I have many fond memories of Zakir Sahib. Whenever in Islamabad, I visited him. For me, he was not only a friend but also a mentor. He appreciated my sports pieces; at the same time indicating the areas, I needed to improve. 

A fitness freak, he was a very active badminton player well into his sixties and was the veteran champion of his club. For the last few years, he had taken to a daily walk in the Islamabad’s Fatima Jinnah Park. It was there on March 21, when he expired after a sudden collapse due to cardiac arrest.

A sportsman and a sports lover, Zak died with his boots on.

Zakir Sahib, I will miss you. The world of sports will miss you dearly.