What is wrong with hockey in India?
If Dhyanchand was alive today, he would have wished he wasn't. Seeing the plight and misery of the Indian hockey team would have embarrassed him considering the fact that during its glory days India was to hockey what West Indies was to cricket in the seventies. Or what Roger Federer was to tennis in the first decade of the 21st century or Muhammad Ali was to boxing. My concern over here is not to discuss the misery of the national game, but to concentrate on the basic yet critical point that somehow came to the fore in the aftermath of India's triumph at the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy. In between the quagmire of what transpired after the historic win and the prize announcement, one thing that was quite unusual was that most hockey pundits and celebrity fans went on comparing hockey with cricket.
The peanuts offered to the team, a paltry sum of Rs 25,000 to each member of the winning squad was met with apt criticism and dejection. Even though, the government tried to save its face by increasing the amount and coming out with a list of its benevolence dished out for hockey and other sports in the country, the damage was already done. However, the natural progression of this should have led us to discussing the root cause behind such humiliation of the victors but inadvertently as is the case with Indians, the prime time TV discussions moved to cricket. Comparisons were drawn with the compensation offered to cricketers and was related to the meager sums offered to poor hockey brethrens. Some even suggested BCCI to show its magnanimity to come out and provide monetary assistance. My argument is that any amount isn't going to magically cure the state of affairs in Indian hockey unless one understands the ailment affecting it.
In fact, the ailment is a combination of different elements- maladministration, internal politics, lack of funds and the foremost; missing infrastructure. All of these maladies are crystal clear and you do not need a genius to point out these deficiencies. A closer look at these would reveal a vicious circle of incompetence, ineptness, lack of intent and planning and resulting dilapidated status quo. For all that we criticise BCCI for its greed and brinksmanship, what is remarkable is the fact that it has kept the funds flowing through shrewd marketing and its ruling with an iron fist in a velvet glove that has kept the cricketers in good humour. Seldom would you hear that a player is being banned for a disciplinary or other vague reason. The manner in which Sandeep Singh and Sardara Singh left the national camp just before the start of a major tournament left fans perplexed.
The reason offered was, as has been the trend, personal/disciplinary issue and full stop. Imagine what would have happened if Gautam Gambhir or Zaheer Khan had faced similar fate. One thing is sure, the BCCI would have made their reasons clear so that the public would have been well aware and at least content with the openness. The world knows what happened between Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell, but are we ever going to know what the real reason behind two of the top hockey players leaving the national camp midway and subsequently being banned for two years was? I would say, the answer is not very inspiring.
If anything that hockey in India needs today is an administration structured on the lines of the BCCI, manned by professionals with enough knowledge, competence and power to turn things in their favour when the push comes to shove. Marketing the game to the scale of cricket is not unthinkable, but frankly not possible at this stage. It should, however, be the ultimate aim. The popularity of hockey is unquestionable as can be gauged by the sky rocketing decibel levels during the Indo-Pak clashes.
There have been attempts in the past for popularising the sport in the country, the most prominent one being the Premier Hockey League. It can be best described as a failed attempt to professionalise the sport, but an honest effort towards popularising hockey in India.
At present efforts are on to inject life through World Series Hockey, another ambitious plan that hopes to see a participation of over 150 players from India and abroad competing for 8 franchises based in Indian cities spread over 61 matches.
Even though the inaugural Champions Trophy wasn't being covered live, still devoted fans were scouring through social networking websites and other sports and news website for the updates. Enough evidences to comment on the fan following of the national game.
Another missing piece is the lack of infrastructure. Hockey is no more played on grass and the artificial surface on which players play their tricks requires a clever mixture of pace, power and skill. The Australians play the same style of hockey as Indians, but in a sharp contrast of fortunes, Aussies top the rankings chart while India is at ninth position behind countries like New Zealand and neighbours Pakistan. The majority of our hockey players come from humble backgrounds (Yuvraj Valmiki). They start their career playing on grass but need thorough training to acquire certain skills and gameplay that are needed when exposed to artificial surfaces. The more the astro-turf stadiums/practice pitches to play on, the better will the players be equipped to develop their game suited for the international level. Consider this – the Netherlands, a country whose size is comparable to Kerala has over 200 astro-turf grounds while India almost one-tenth of the figure. This aptly summarises the state of affairs as far as infrastructure is concerned.
The wrangling over the supreme authority to govern hockey in India between Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation is another unnecessary roadblock for the revival of the game. Its latest victim was the withdrawal of men's Champions Trophy from the country that seriously jeopardised the chances of the team to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012. Setting the house in order would be the beginning to a long and streamlined progress towards bringing glory days back. Merger of the two factions is pivotal if the concerned officials sincerely want to see their efforts bear any positive result. Maybe, they need a Jagmohan Dalmiya of their own who is known for his excellence in sports administration.