Hockey, our national sport, once used to spark emotion in people in the days gone by but what does it do to you today? Rewind back to the good old sports tapes of the 40′s, 50′s, 60′s and the 70′s and you’d see a sport that was (or is) called Hockey. Those were the golden ages in the domains of Indian hockey, those were the days that our ‘national sport’ was actually seen as a cachet of valour for every Indian, young boys would grow up trying to emulate the legends and their heroes- Dhyanchand, Leslie Claudius, Balbir Singh Sr, Ajit Pal Singh. Our hockey wizards would mesmerize and hypnotize you into a parallel world, a heavenly parallel world. Those were the times when playing for the nation in hockey would be seen as a service to the country, moments of brilliance would send all Indians into jubiliation and the defeats send tears down the faces of even two year olds who wouldn’t even understand the most basic of Hockey laws.
Hockey was much more than just a sport, often a tool for national integrity, to bring together people from all regions. Long before cricket hit the main stream, it was hockey that let people from Punjab to Bengal, Andhra to Gujrat, Maharashtra to Kashmir, play as one for India. It was this Indian hockey that brought us 8 Olympic Gold medals, more than any other sport to date in our Olympic history. Those were the days when anything other than a GOLD medal in the Summer Olympics was seen as a failure, a failure of epic proportions. Those were the days people would come together for a match broadcast on the All India Radio or on the black-and-white televisions of the privileged. It was this golden age of hockey that put us, Indians, on the world sporting map, that gave us the inherent identity and belief that we can and we will compete at the global stage that is the Olympics, the most valuable tournament for all portentous sportsmen around the world. Indian hockey was at the forefront of Indian sports and our hockey players were defining everything that an Indian stood for, what we craved for and what we wanted to conquer in sports.
Indian hockey then was the bright shining light that made us dream, made everyone believe that sport was something that we as a nation, could proudly showcase our talents in, yes even on the global stage.
But as all wise men say, time flies by, and it has had its winds of change on Indian hockey too. Forward to our times and India is no longer a global force, hockey is no longer a sport that would garner the ‘eyeballs’ of most Indians, not even the ones who portray themselves as open nationalists. Ask a man on the street and he may not know of the sport of hockey, let alone know about any of the popular Indian hockey players- contemporary or of the years gone by. The glories of Indian hockey are no longer visible, just restricted in the historical memoirs of Indian hockey, an entity that once had its own distinct identity. Hockey is now just a poorer cousin of cricket in India and if the growing popularity of football is taken into account, hockey in India could well be relegated to an even lower pedestal which might have seemed unthinkable some 3 decades ago.
But a decade is a very long time, 3-4 decades even longer. Hockey has fallen, fallen from its perch both in terms of popularity and on accounts of performance of our teams in major tournaments. Getting to the latter stages is now considered a success by the administrators and the people, a far cry from the days when anything less than a Gold medal would not suffice, it would be seen as a grave failure of the team. These days, finding prodigious talents like Dhanraj Pillai, Dilip Tirkey or Gagan Ajit Singh is more of an exception than the norm. Finding young men and women who’d still identify with these legends is rare in times when craving for virtual gaming on the internet has far exceeded the liking that people might harbour for the actual sport. These are the days in our times when you’d see hockey players lodging into and staying in shabby rooms with poor sanitation and getting a paltry pay for their services .
So where did it all go wrong for Hockey? Different individuals would have differing answers for this question. Reasons would vary from the increased presence and popularity of Cricket post-1983 World Cup win to the apathy shown by the Government in improving domestic hockey and the lack of funding on its part. Lack of proper training facilities for hockey players , absence of proper scouting for finding young talents and the absolute non-existence of infrastructure to promote hockey at the grass roots level in the country. The internal politics in the governing body of Indian hockey for whom personal interests seem more concerning than the existence of a hockey team itself, is seen by some as another reason.
Whatever might have been the reason(s), the journey traversed by Indian hockey has been a very long one, albeit a negative one, a journey gone wrong from the lofty heights of heaven to the dark depths of hell. What we must do is to arrest this slide, how it must be done is anyone’s guess, but it is the men in power who really matter(yes, those warring factions of IHF and HI) and have they seen guiding light for future of Indian hockey yet? That’s all that matters!