Indian Hockey: Is the Game Dead?

The 1980s saw a tectonic shift in the sports scenario in India. Cricket was on the rise, with their recent exploits in the World Cup in ’83, the Indian cricket team was the toast of the nation, and Kapil’s Devils were the heroes. Hockey, on the other hand, was going downhill. India, who was a force to reckon with in the hockey arena, was losing its edge. The drought of medals started in this decade only. The Olympic gold medal at Moscow, 1980, is the last notable achievement of the Indian hockey. The golden era of hockey, 1928-56, in which India grabbed the Olympic Gold medals with unflinching ease, has been long forgotten. What remains is an ineffective administration, a band of warring players and lots of political games blotting the scene of hockey in India.

Of late, the state of hockey in our country doesn’t promise much for the revival of the game. The entire nation watches with mixed emotions of shock and horror, as our national game keeps plummeting to lower lows. First, it was the players’ revolt against the non-payment of their dues, where the dirty linen of Indian hockey was washed in public. Now, it is the Hockey India elections, which are marring the image of our national game. The big players don’t want to yield an inch to the opponent. The result? Another round of mud-slinging has begun. The war of words between Suresh Kalmadi, the IOA President, and Olympian Pargat Singh is doing more harm than good to the game. The possible ramifications of present on the future of hockey are not being worked out.

Amidst all the brouhaha comes a statement from the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Vice President, Antonio Von Ondarza. The gentleman advised the striking Indian players to resume practice, reiterating that their revolt would find no support from FIH ranks. The statement is deemed as nothing less than interference in the internal matters of the HI. The country’s federation is at loss to explain the sudden development.

Such interference is not a new trend in the hockey administration in India. In 1970s, two factions, led by M A M Ramaswamy and Ashwini Kumar were fighting for the control of Indian Hockey. To please the FIH, maybe to enlist their support, the Indian administrators didn’t raise a voice when astro-turfs were introduced in the Montreal Olympics, 1976. Ajit Pal Singh’s statements, that the introduction of astro-turf would hurt Indian interests, fell on deaf ears. No one was ready to hear this Indian star. Now, quite prophetically, Indian Hockey finds itself in a complete mess.

Hockey India coffers are running low. The ad-hoc arrangement, where Kalmadi was instrumental in the men’s team being paid a sum of 1 crore rupees, proves that the governing body has lost its potency in running the game. Also Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s   benevolence was on display, when he distributed a sum of Rs.73 lakhs among the women’s hockey team, ending their Gandhigiri-inspired protests.

The argument that the lack of sponsors arises from the string of poor performances of the Indian hockey teams is not entirely true. It is the crooked administration that has failed to capitalize upon chances that it got to revive the sport. When the Indian team won the Gold medal at The Asian Games in 1998, an opportunity was there to encourage the players by doling out huge incentives, which would have lent an aura of credibility and recognition to the administration and the players alike. But little was done to take advantage of the situation.

Is this the end of road for Indian Hockey? Where does the road bend from here? The questions have remained unanswered till date. The sports hostels are churning out more losers than champions. The tribal belts of Jharkhand and Orissa, which are famous for producing some of the finest hockey players, are gradually drifting away from the sport. Hockey has virtually been reduced to ashes.

Deducing from the current state of the game, it may be safe to assume that it is in the last legs of its life. Unless drastic measures are taken to inject some life into it, the game is as good as dead. Maybe, it is time to privatize the sport. Many corporate bigwigs are ready to play ball, if they are offered attractive returns. It is time to take the services of the entrepreneurs in India. The game is on life support, it needs fresh ideas. It needs fresh minds, and overall, it needs a new life. Let us give it one. Our national game deserves much better than what it is getting now.

Manas Ranjan Kar

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