Indian Hockey: Struggling Behind Cricket

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India defeated Sri Lanka to take an unassailable lead in the series and Virat Kohli became the fastest man to reach 6000 runs in 50-over cricket. In other news, India defeated world champions Australia in the bilateral hockey tournament. It’s ironic that an article on hockey starts with the reference to cricket. But this has been the pattern in India for decades – cricket has always preceded hockey.

I am not eligible to point fingers for I also could not watch the series which India won 3-1 in the backyard of current World Cup holders. Although, after reading match reports across platforms, it looks like the team did a wonderful job, winning three matches in a row. But the limelight was yet again stolen by cricket – by another India-Sri Lanka series.

Hockey is as much a spectator sport as cricket. As a matter of fact, hockey makes for really good viewing for its speed, short duration, involvement of all the players on field, and a unique set of skills. Despite the attributes clouding the sport, it has failed to even come close to cricket in terms of fan following in the country. Cricketers enjoy stardom, while hockey players aren’t recognised by us. How many of us know the playing 11 of our national hockey team? Not many, I am certain. But we become experts when it comes to picking the squad for the next cricket world cup.

Hockey has had a downhill journey in India. The illustrious history of Indian hockey (eight Olympic golds are no mean feat) has not been able to push the sport ahead. We have fallen behind other teams within the sport and much behind cricket in India itself.

It’s not as if there have been no attempts to rejuvenate hockey. Premier Hockey League started in 2005 but was disbanded in 2008. Hockey in Asian Games could only manage to create a buzz among Indians when India faced Pakistan in the final. Hockey India League, following the IPL-model has completed two seasons, but with relatively low success.

IPL ticket prices start at around Rs 1000 and stadiums are jam packed, while HIL finds it difficult to fill the seats with Rs 100 a ticket.

Indian hockey has struggled not only in its performances, but also in garnering support. There is a dire need to ascertain a fan following to re-establish. The recent win in Asian Games and Australia must be used as pillars to build on. A good PR strategy and marketing technique can help the sport in featuring in the television sets in living rooms.

Among the 1.2 billion people in India, there are quite a few sport enthusiasts. If a good showing on the field can be matched up by good marketing and telecast, there is no reason why hockey should stay astray from Indian audiences. Not only hockey, but every other sport, has stayed in the shadows of cricket.

Hockey may not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with cricket, but it can certainly find its feet back. Pro Kabaddi League and Indian Super League have shown that sports, other than cricket, exist in India and can attract audiences. India needs to grow from a cricket nation to a sport nation.

Vikas Arora

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