1920’s and 1960’s: India bags eight gold, one silver, two bronze medals in eighteen successive appearances in the Olympics. Six of the eight gold medals came in consecutive appearances. 2008: India fails to even qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
This, in short, is the account of the downfall of Indian Hockey which is upsetting not only for hockey enthusiasts in India, but, for sports fans all over the world. Is it not disgraceful that a country with a population of over a billion fails to qualify for its national sport?
There is no dearth of talent. What we require is a functional and active body at the centre that can exploit and capitalize on this talent. There is not even a proper domestic league for the players to compete. Tournaments are needed at the school-level, district-level and state-level to generate and inculcate interest in this sport amongst the children and youth.
And as far as the Indian Hockey Federation is concerned, there is not much to say. The very fact that it was dissolved a year ago and an Ad-Hoc committee is in its place speaks volumes of their responsibility in the decline of Indian Hockey. At a time when Indian hockey was already drawing flak for its dismal performance, all that could be heard was the involvement of their secretary in a bribe scandal.
The role of the media in this regard has not been very constructive either. All their efforts seem to be drawn towards concentrating on promotion, publicity and coverage of cricket. When the Indian cricket team won the Twenty20 tournament, they were awarded lavish bungalows, cash prizes and treated like heroes. But does anyone even remember the amount of coverage that was given to the hockey team at that time which one the Asia cup? On the other hand, the media is quick to call our national sport a shame. Cricket seems to be the only sport that everyone follows.
The hockey federation in India should gain knowledge of marketing their sport from the BCCI who have capitalized on the Twenty20 auctions and even the ‘chak de’ theme. (Ironically, every sport seems to have benefitted from it except for hockey on which it was actually based)
We need not blame the hockey players for not performing. What incentives do they get for performing? There are instances where players have played entire tournaments in just two sets of shorts and shirts. At a time, when, cricketers are making crores and staying in five star hotels, hockey players have to do with staying in the premises of the national stadiums and putting up with a meager $30 for their expenses. With such embarrassing conditions, I do not blame them if they quit the sport in search of a more stable livelihood.
A lot can and needs to be done in terms of infrastructure as well-for instance, floodlight hockey can be introduced and we could definitely do with a few more stadiums and improvements in the conditions of the present ones.
In addition, we can take inspiration from countries like Australia. They are numero uno in cricket but that has not stifled the growth of other sports in the country. Let us not just blame the centre for the state of Indian Hockey. It is high time we woke up and made a collective effort to revive our national sport. It might take time but let us not give up on it. Chak De.