You wake up in the morning and the first thing that comes to your mind is the India – Pakistan Hockey match, which is all set to begin at 3 p.m., today. As the day passes and I am all geared up to watch the match, I see the roads are all deserted, yet the televisions aren’t switched on. Not even the radios. India is a nation of sport freaks and to find only a few old people watching the game on the television set is very surprising. When I stop by to ask why, all they say is ‘stop wondering, it’s just a hockey match’. This is the sad story of our national game. Hockey has a history of over a century in our country. This is the only game that gave India international fame in the sports arena.
Hockey was introduced in India by the British. The first hockey club came up in Calcutta in 1885-86 and soon Bombay and Punjab followed suit. It was earlier played only by the army personnel. India participated in the Olympics in 1928 and won the Gold in Hockey. India won 6 straight consecutive gold medals in Hockey till 1956. This period 1928-1956 is hence called the golden era of Indian Hockey. No Indian team till date has reached close to breaking this record. This period saw great players such as, Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh, etc. India had in total won eight golds, one silver and two bronze medals in Olympics.
Plight of Hockey
Funds have been a problem for the Indian team to participate in the Olympics since 1936. But leaders such as Jagdish Prasad and Naval Tata ensured that the Indian team went to Olympics. They managed funds from different sources and convinced the higher authorities to send the team to Olympics. After Naval Tata, his successor Ashwini went a step further by selling his ancestral property to collect funds for the team. After he quit, e the IHF has struggled to get a good leader who can stretch his limits for the team.
When India participated in the Olympics in 1932, there were as little as three teams participating in the competition. Since then the number has increased as well as the competition. The Indian Hockey’s golden era came to an end when Pakistan defeated India in the finals. It was not the players who failed rather it were the leadership and support which failed. The 1970s saw the advent of synthetic turf in international sports. This impacted their performance adversely because in India, synthetic turfs came six years later. Being the national game, there were very limited facilities for playing hockey in the country. The Government failed to promote the game in every school and college. People switched to playing Cricket which could be easily played on streets and small grounds which was not the case with Hockey. It became a sport which was played by few and hence affected the talent pool.
Youngsters lost interest in the sport and hence Hockey lost much of its fan base. The growing popularity of Cricket turned all investors towards it. India did manage to get talented players in the pool however, the IHF again failed to provide them salaries and incentives of a full-time job. There are many players who earn their living from this sport and treatment like this certainly affected their performances. When the much needed trainings were required, IHF kept changing the coaches. The result was that they couldn’t even qualify for the 2008 Olympics for the first time after 1928.
Therefore, as Indians we need to focus our attention on laying a strong foundation of Hockey in our children. It is high time Hockey is treated and given the priority as our national sport. The facilities should be made available to engage as many youngsters as possible in the game. NGOs can play an important role in this. Existing players should be given due importance and incentives they deserve. Increasing awareness about the sport is also essential to increase its fan following. This will eventually bring corporate banners and would reduce the fund crunch.
I hope this will place Hockey back on its route to yet another golden era and this time a longer one.