Hockey - National game of India

Coach Terry Walsh might have threatened to resign from Indian Hockey Team, exposing the bitter truth of our national game management but there are some things that we could boast of when talking about the recent achievements and wins by the Indian hockey team. Indian hockey might have had its ups and downs but for sure we are on the verge of revival. The evidence is in winning the Asian Games against rival Pakistan 4-2 at the 17th Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea, thereby qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, it’s only the third gold medal for India in the Asian Games.

Our national game has had a rich history. With eight Olympic gold medals, India is still the most unbeaten team in Olympics. Indian hockey team clutched its first Olympic gold in year 1928 and it successfully emerged victorious until 1956. After the 1998 Games triumph against South Korea, the gold medal after 16 years at the Incheon Games surely proves that we are in the right direction. Currently, India is ranked 9th in the world.

If we have a look at the current reforms in Indian hockey by which I mean the exhilarating win at the Incheon Games and the birth of Hero Hockey India League (HHIL), with international players and budding talents putting in their best performances on field, the revival of Indian Hockey has begun, pulling crowds and stars to the game, even though there is still a lot to be done to move to the next level of resurgence. But at least, we are on the right path. The young players led by Sardar Singh are showing immense grit and determination on field.

Sports leagues promote games

Organizing sports leagues in different sports is in vogue and seems to be the best bet for businessmen. The good part is that it’s helping Indian sports grow gradually. After leagues like Indian Premier League, Indian Cricket League, Wrestling League, Pro-Kabaddi League et al, hockey too found its way. The Hero Hockey India League (HHIL) has had its two seasons (Ranchi Rhinos being the first edition winners and Delhi Waveriders winning the second season) with fair amount of spectators at the stadiums and TV channels as well as the fan following on social networking sites. Incredible talents from Holland, Germany, Australia will uplift the talents of other young players and provide them with more experience as far as speed, fitness and techniques are concerned. The league has its own goal of making it an eight team franchisee and later on ten teams by 2016 and 2018, respectively. It seems the national game will definitely grow, gradually though.

Walsh issue and  inefficient management

Winning a gold medal at the recent Asian Games and qualifying for 2016 Rio Olympics was indeed a feat for the Indian nationals, players and association. As the national team was enjoying the new found glory, the news of Coach Terry Walsh resigning from the post of coach because of remuneration matters shocked everyone. It again brought out the matter of inefficient management. Even though Terry Walsh has now withdrawn the resignation, such matters cannot be overlooked. In the past, Indian hockey has seen coaches resigning due to similar reasons which have a direct effect on players hampering their performance. The federation must acknowledge that any coach and the players coaching under them need time to build a relationship and trust for better performance. Skills and techniques need to be honed and understood and it requires time. How is it possible if they keep sacking coaches or the coaches keep resigning due to such matters?

Politics in Indian sports is a bitter truth known to all. The federations run by politicians have little chance of growing as a sport. What we have seen is corruption and politics instead of promoting the sport. It has to stop! Even if we are doing well in certain sports disciplines it’s more of the efforts by individuals as compared to the federations support. Talk about the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Indian Lawn Tennis Association (AITA), National Rifle Association of India and when it comes to sports like boxing, the federations have little to contribute and only recognize talents when events like Asian Games or Olympics approach. They have failed to improve the condition of players as well as the sport. It’s only the players efforts and performance that is helping them largely in spite of being caught between petty politics and no support from the federations. The recent case of Sarita Devi (boxing) speaks a thousand words where no one stood by her side.

We must not forget how the national game, hockey, degraded in India once KPS Gill was appointed as the president of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). The recurring conflicts and issues between players and the federation resulted in tensions among players and eventually Hockey India was established to encounter the politics and conflicts going on.

Decline of the national game

Hockey is our national game and we must address the significant issues to make it flourish.

History is testimony that Indian Hockey excelled well beyond expectations between 1928 and 1980. Being the world champions once, it was a shame to see the national sport declining. India also successfully produced hockey stars like Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh, Leslie Claudius and many more. As time passed, the quality of Indian hockey dropped. Let’s have a look at what went wrong:

Lack of exposure and tournaments: To gain experience, new techniques and exposure, the players need more domestic tournaments. Youngsters would hardly want to take up hockey as a sport in recent times, the reason being no exposure and development of hockey in India. Even if youngsters take up the sport they are unable to continue due to lack of domestic competitions and being scouted for bigger roles ahead. To move a step ahead in the revival of Indian hockey, upliftment at the grass-roots level is mandatory. There should be innovative ways to introduce the sport to youngsters at school level and hold workshops focusing on ball control, defense, drag flicks and other techniques.

Also, for the senior players there are no other tournaments besides the Indian Hockey League to polish their skills.

Need for sponsors: Not having funds to promote the sport is a state of pity for any federation and its players. Sponsors as well as private investors should come and support the national game in whatever way they can. Rewards to players are almost futile in comparison with sports like cricket who have turned the players wealthy, of course, with the added talent. Hockey India as well as the private investors should try and attract more sponsors so that the players too benefit in the form of rewards. Also, the funds will help promote hockey at a higher level and take it ahead.

Astroturf issues: Many players and management complaining of Astroturf as the cause of declining performance has been in news for long. The Astroturf, as per the players hinders their best performance when it comes to ball dribbling or control and getting used to the turf. It’s hard for them to adapt to the new turf, since they usually don’t practice on that. The only remedy is to start working out on Astroturf from the beginning phase rather than practicing on Astroturf only for certain tournaments so that the players don’t hesitate to change conditions and turf.

Need for inspiration: For the national game to reach greater heights, role models are utterly important. If role models like Sachin Tendulkar can bring youngsters to cricket, so can a hockey legend. We need people from the hockey fraternity to come ahead and inspire the youngsters of India. There is no dearth of legends, Dhanraj Pillay being one.

Stability in team selection: The conflicts between the Indian Hockey Federation and Hockey India for almost three years following corruption charges on the IHF was shameful for Indian hockey. Hockey India emerged at that time becoming the official governing body of the national game. The government tried to bring about harmony between the two only to be futile. Only in 2012 the merger with Hockey India shaped up. The governing bodies have to be out of controversy ad conflicts for the benefit of the game.

Also, stability in terms of appointing coaches is necessary. The long term benefits have to be planned and discussed among the association, coach and players. If the coach has stability, he gives his best to the players which are evident at present scenario – qualifying for 2016 Olympics. Stability in team selection is also essential. For best performance, players need to be divided for domestic and international events, respectively. Choosing new players for each tournament will reflect on lack of co-ordination and quality of game.

If all the shortcomings are looked into, Indian Hockey will unquestionably flourish.