Indian Hockey: A National Game’s Lost Sheen

Scores were leveled at 2-2 after the first half and a sluggish start to the second half almost ensured an overtime but destiny had its own plans, in the 68th minute Indian mid-fielder Ignace Tirkey advanced down right and on entering the circle dispatched a rasping shot which beat Pakistan keeper Ahmad Alam hands down. Score board read 3-2 and Pakistan made a last dash to level the scores with an aggressive play only to concede another goal, India scored two field goals in the last two minutes of the game to win the sixth Asia Cup Hockey title and September 28th, 2003 marked the comeback of a long-lost Indian team to international arena of men’s field hockey. Just when glory started sinking in, things started falling apart and then came the nadir in 2008, Indian team failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. Shame and disgrace struck the eight time gold medal winner at the Olympics. The sport representing the pride of our nation has lost its sheen and left a shoddy path for recovery.

Six consecutive gold medals at Olympics from 1928 to 1956; the unparalleled might of Indian hockey earned the game national recognition and has been bestowed with national sport status. Players like Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh (considered to be the “Hockey Twins”) have written the golden era of Indian hockey, even until 1980s hockey in India had a decent following and viewer ship. On a Sunday during an English summer in 1983 Kapil Dev’s dare devils clinched the cricket world cup and changed the Indian sports arena. Those were the days when world hockey was raising its bar in performance, those were the days when media transformed from Radios and Newspapers to Television in India and those were the days when Indian hockey team crashed out of the 1984 Olympics. These events unfolded simultaneously as if it was a conspiracy and led to the slide of hockey’s fame in India. However, if cricket was not be blamed; hockey had its own debris to clean up. Spineless federation, low funding, lack of lucrative sponsorships and deprived media support have been agonizingly long-standing problems for the sport.

Hockey federation or the governing body has always failed to capitalize the situation and gather enough funds to provide infrastructure for the players, as infamously said even cows are ashamed of grazing on grounds our players get to play. Deep rooted corruption has charred the system and barred progress of the sport, recent K.P.S Gill- Jyothikumaran incident has left the game tottering on the verge of extinction in this country. Lack of encouragement and opportunities has evaded the eligible to take up hockey as a career option; moreover incidents like the 1982 Asian Games Final has dilapidated the situation. India’s 1-7 loss to Pakistan was treated with humiliation and then goal keeper Mir Ranjan Negi was clamored with criticism, in an interview with journalist Anand Philar after the event Negi expressed his anguish (excerpts of that interview: “Everywhere I went, I was abused by the public”). In those days no loss on the cricket field might have moved us in a similar manner. The reason for this lies in the fact that Hockey, more than any other game, was deeply etched in the Indian culture.

Unlike other sports, Hockey has a glorious past in India and basking on this glory has plagued the system with complacency. Who is responsible for this state of the sport? Should the government intervene as this is a national sport? Would a capable administration be sufficient to resurrect the situation? Answers to these questions may not suffice; a complete overhaul should be the mandate. Every aspect of the game involving infrastructure, selection process, fees and funds, coaching and non-coaching staff etc have to be upgraded to world-class level. Non-government run non-political federation, like Cricket’s BCCI, with a proper agenda and principles is the first pre-requisite, incentives and handsomely paying jobs are the minimal needs for a player, capable coaching and non-coaching staff marks the difference between winning and losing, and last but the most crucial element being sponsorship and media coverage. A conglomeration of all these factors can return Indian hockey to the pinnacle.

Sports in India were always on the back burner with exceptions like cricket, but a form of art once excelled but later ignored due to negligence is not worth an excuse. The passion to win, the stamina to sustain, the ability to outsmart and the honour of playing for the nation might be the virtues to make a world-class player but an ambiance to nurture them is the need of the hour. Recent developments like dissolving the IHF, forming a new body, winning the Azlan Shah Trophy should hopefully not go down in the history of this game as another hit and miss story. A national game’s lost sheen should go down in the history of this game as a parody and not remain as an inglorious chink of the past.

Ikshwak Kandi

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