If you ask a ten year old child who Sunil Gavaskar and Dhyan Chand are, you will receive the obvious answer that Sunil Gavaskar played cricket for India. But of Dhyan Chand, the child would be oblivious. Well, for all those who bear a resemblance to the child, the latter was our very own hockey player whose laurels are certainly no less than that of any of the cricketers’ or famous sports personalities whom we admire. Still this winner of three Olympic Gold Medals is forgotten history…. This negligence is collinear with the scene of our National Sport – hockey which is ignored and left uncared for by the Government, the media and the general public.
The inevitable comparisons between hockey and cricket have become common with many debates arising as to whether it is right to set the two sports against each other. I feel, why not? Hockey deserves all that cricket does. Hockey is one of the oldest games in our country which used to be played in every village in India. India has emerged a Gold Winner numerous times at international meets, pre-independence. Hockey teams from our country have an unbroken record of six straight Olympic Gold Medals from 1928-56.
But the recognition awarded to legendary players was less than even basic. Balbir Singh, Ashok Kumar, Jafar Iqbal, Dhyan Chand, Dilip Tirkey are forgotten heroes, to the extent that Dhyan Chand, with so many feathers in his cap, was dumped in the general ward of AIIMS when he was diagnosed with the liver cancer in the late 70s. He died a man without a hefty bank balance. And now the conditions have become so pathetic that the very country who taught others the game, failed to make it to the last Olympics.
The blame game
Who is to be blamed for this? Undoubtedly the players are not fairing well in their performances. The reason for their deplorable performance is rooted in the lack of basic amenities that an international sport demands.
Lack of proper infrastructure
It pains me to see that our country does not have the basic infrastructure to support this sport. The absence of enough practice stadiums is an obstacle that our national game is constantly facing. To exemplify this, even private schools with all the funding available to them have separate courts and arenas for tennis, badminton, football, basketball and horse riding but to see a hockey practicing zone is a rare spectacle. Though hockey is said to be a game played on soil, with other countries giving their players the newest techniques, our players remain impoverished and unable to compete with others.
Even the available infrastructure is a battle against dilapidated conditions – right from props to the lighting, from changing rooms to bathrooms, from food to water – is pitiable. It was reported that the Women’s World Cup qualifiers for Harare had to satisfy themselves with unhygienic conditions and a low quality diet. The enormity is highlighted by the fact that some players went to bed hungry for four continuous days owing to the food shortage. The much needed milk and eggs became delicacies, appearing only in contracts. Due to these circumstances, hockey can never rise from the level it has sunk to.
There is also a lack of sponsors in our country to support this national sport. One may say that the leading sports sponsors are too afraid to invest in what is considered a not so worthy sport but it is also an established fact that players do not perform, well often due to lack of proper amenities which can come from sponsoring. This has a dampening effect upon the quality and participation of players.
The lack of incentives offered to the players has tarred the image of hockey as a game. The pay scales of the hockey players have been deterring new entrants. The national hockey players are not even paid the pittance they are offered. It would be accurate to say that a normal international Indian cricket player makes multiple times the money paid to the national sport player per match.
Lets own up to our responsibility: I would not be wrong to say that the government, the media and the people have all treated hockey with gross neglect and disregard. While the government’s bias in ignoring the victory of the Indian hockey team in the face of hugely rewarding the cricket team on various occasions cannot be wiped from our memories. The media is only interested in mourning the loss if the country loses in cricket and celebrating to the hilt when it wins, leaving hockey bereft of even a mere mention. As far as the public is concerned, cricket, golf, tennis and Formula One racing are the only priorities as these reward us with early name and fame. But playing hockey involves the risk that our investment may not bear fruit due to unavailability of proper infrastructure, props and training.
So there is a dire need to reform all the above along with proper facilities and administration. We should not forget that hockey is our national sport and it deserves its due respect. The media has an integral role to play in creating awareness among youngsters about the potential the game possesses. Hockey needs our trust and support and given these, the time will come when our national sport will move up the pecking order
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