There was a time in India when a two year old boy would have said to his father – Papa, I want to be like Dhyan Chand Babu. Pargat Singh, Dhyanchand, K.D. Singh Babu and the other members of the Indian hockey team were the only heroes for India in sports. There was a time when the world knew India by two things – Population and Hockey. There was a time when other teams shivered standing in front of the Indian hockey team. There was a time when the final of hockey in the Olympics was called off not because of rain, but because the finalists simply refused to play against the mighty Indians. There was a time when Adolf Hitler bowed down to team India when Germany was ruthlessly thrashed in the finals of the Olympics.
Looking at the facts of that golden era of Indian Hockey, India is currently the most successful team in Olympic history winning the gold medal for a record 8 times. Apart from that, India has won two bronze and a silver medal in Hockey. From 1928–1956 India was unbeaten in the Olympics. These facts themselves talk volumes about the then Indian team.
But that golden era is sadly diminished and forgotten. From more than 30 years, India has not won a single medal in Olympics hockey. The country which once dominated the world in hockey has suddenly found itself playing the qualifying matches for the Olympics. Is there something that went wrong drastically?
The answer to this question is NO. This was a gradual process. 1982-1983 was the period which saw the start of the downfall of hockey in India. After winning the Gold in 1980 Olympics, India did not even finish on the podium in the 1982 World Cup in its home turf. The Olympic Gold medalists were shocked, India was shocked. The heroes of the Olympics suddenly became the villains.
After a year or so, India suddenly saw an emergence of a new sport – cricket. In 1983, Kapil Dev’s men shocked the defending champions – the mighty West Indies and lifted the World Cup for the first time. This was the turning point in India’s sporting history. The nation started following Cricket and this was the start of the debacle of hockey.
Indian hockey team kept on losing tournaments after tournaments and matches after matches. No one cared, not even the governments, not even the Governing body and not even the people of India who simply forgot that a sport named hockey existed.
After some years K.P.S Gill took over the governing body – IHF (Indian Hockey Federation) opening a new chapter in Indian hockey. The body did not concentrate on leading India to success but only concentrated on making money. The one good thing that IHF did was introducing PHL (Premier Hockey League). After enjoying four splendid seasons of league matches, it was scrapped in 2008. No one knows the reason behind it. People got attracted to the sport through PHL, but sadly it is no more. After some very unsuccessful years for India and India not qualifying for the Olympics for the first time since 1928, Ex- Players and some experts questioned IHF’s work. But no one seemed to care to do anything. Soon, a member of the IHF was caught taking bribes for the selection of players in front of cameras. IHF was officially suspended, following this incident.
HI (Hockey India) took over as the governing body. An organisation which was headed by Mrs. Vidya Stokes, an INC (Indian National Congress) woman, who knew nothing about the sport and did not even know anything about management. How can a woman without any knowledge about the sport run the governing body? Ric Charlesworth, the man who guided Australia to a gold in the 2010 World Cup publicly said that he was ready to coach India long before the world cup, but the Governing body turned down his proposal.
Future Seems Bright:
HI covered up for its mistake by appointing Michael Nobbs as the coach of India, the man that Indian Hockey desperately needed. He guided India to Asian Champions Trophy Gold, a good 2ndplace in Champions Challenge and most importantly, helped India in qualifying for the London Olympics. By combining the experienced seniors and aggressive juniors, the coach has turned the team into a fierce and competitive side.
The introduction of World Series Hockey has helped the nation take more interest in Hockey! The inaugural edition of WSH took India by storm! With more than 30 million viewers, it is now the 2nd most watched tournament in the Indian Sub-continent (leaving behind the likes of EPL & F1). Some more years of WSH and it would be a huge success!
Nobbs famously said – “Give me 100 players for 2 years & I will convert them into a world class team!” With only a year gone, it looks like it could well prove true.
London Olympics will decide the fate of Indian hockey.
Published with permission from el sportino.