An inquisitive young mind, forced me to stop and rewind, to delve into the dust gathering history archives and relive an era gone-by. Her quest for knowledge, her ‘right to information’ propelled her to pose a question which garnered a completely shocking reply. Yes, a 10 year old from Lucknow had had out of mere curiosity submitted questions related to the national symbols of our country. And all except one got the expected answer. Yes, it had come as a rude awakening. It felt as if I had been living with a lie for so long. With the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affair’s announcement that India had no official national sport, I could feel a void deep down inside. I must admit that I have never been a huge hockey fan, but I still felt as if I had been robbed of something precious, as if certain ties had been severed, ties which had never been too strong, but none the less the pang of pain had its influence for long.
On researching more I found out that National Sports are classified on two basis: One is the de jure (by law) like Rugby in New Zealand and de facto (by fact) like Field Hockey in India. That hockey had been glorified and hailed as our national game, having played an important part in our cultural integration and prosperity, by the official website of the Indian government came as a no surprise.
Only 3 people had gone to see them off at the Airport for the 1928 Olympics , and a million greeted them on their return, for the Indian men’s hockey team had conquered the world, sweeping aside all opposition and struck gold in the pinnacle of sports. But this was just the beginning. Another gold medal was added in 1932, and arguably the greatest hour in Indian sports history arrived four years later in Berlin, where under the gawking eyes of the ”fuhrer”, India thrashed Germany 8 goals to 1, to cement their legacy in the sporting folklore forever.
Besides a new icon, a symbol of excellence, and a proponent of how to weave the magic stick appeared in the form of Major Dhyan Chand.
The sporting community along with the fans were be-witched to the extent that any hockey game involving India was no less than a magic show and Major Chand the show-stopper. Such was his dribbling skills and ball control, that a team from Netherlands broke his stick to apparently look for a magnet inside that never was. Meanwhile seeing him ‘dictate’ the play against his team, the ‘dictator’ offered him a post in his army which was duly rejected. It is believed that he even scored with a lady’s walking stick. Such was his influence that a brilliant crop of players emerged under his tutelage like Roop singh et al, thus ensuring that India remained light years ahead of the pack and won the hockey gold every single time till 1956. To honour his contribution to the game, and in increasing India’s fame his Birthday 29th August is celebrated as National Sports Day, when sportsmen are lauded for their excellence and awards like Khel Ratna , Arjuna Awards, etc are conferred upon them.
Thus hockey had become more than just a game. The sticks had become the new source of strength; the strength to break-free, and express yourself. The instruments which led to social harmony and national unity for the common goal. The goal of restoring India to its former glories, while working towards a better future. Post Independence hockey gave our country an identity. An identity that had the characteristics of good-will, self-confidence and the will and desire to compete. Thus hockey became the face of our nation. A face exuding calmness and a grounded persona, inspite of conquests galore; the one thing that India was recognised by.
But elsewhere a new sun was rising. A sun whose brightness would over-shadow all in its vicinity. It is only ironic that cricket’s rise coincided with hockey’s downfall in our nation. The 1983 World Cup marked the rise of cricket in our country while the 1980 Moscow Olympics would be the last time when our hockey team would taste gold.
“Cricket is our religion, and Sachin our God.”
There is no denying the fact that the little master has been carrying the mammoth hopes of an entire nation for 23 years now. That he is revered the world over for his off-field persona, and that he is lauded as the greatest ODI batsmen ever is never under doubt. But still it seems that the aura surrounding Major Dhyan Chand has eluded him, one that would have seemingly made him the mascot of the game.
Moving on from the old-guard to the new poster boy, M.S.Dhoni who was able to win both the T-20 World Cup against Pakistan, and Gen. Musharraf’s heart, which provided a faint reminiscent of Berlin 1936. But it has not always been plain sailing.
We have had the highest of tides, the euphoric ones as experienced after the 2011 World Cup triumph and the lowest ebbs like the match-fixing scandal in the late 90′s which tarnished both the game’s and our country’s image. But there is no denying the fact that even though the ball may have retained the colour white (in most cases that is), the bat has replaced the stick as the armour for our shining knights.
Cricket has infiltrated our lives like nothing else before, and we just can’t get enough of it, be it discussions in the office, the bus, with a distant colleague, or playing it to our heart’s content on the already jam-packed street, or hoarding the T.V. in large fleets, cricket it seems appeals to people of all caste and creeds. In this way it has furthered Hockey’s impact in dissolving boundaries and strengthening societal ties.
Bankrolled by the BCCI’s financial might, the cricketer’s be it the national teams one, or state representatives rake in huge salaries. And lest I forget, the IPL which is the new darling of the masses, providing non-stop entertainment, while giving a platform to upcoming budding cricketers to rub their shoulders with the best, and then let their hair down with Bollywood’s who’s who, ensuring a complete fest.
This is a far cry from the PHL(Premier Hockey League), which had to be closed down due to lack of viewer’s interest, which mirrors the general perception that people nowadays have regarding hockey. This coupled with below-par performances in International tournaments, like the failure to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the last place finish in this year’s edition which was followed by our U-19′s cricket World Cup truimph has ensured that even “Chak De”‘s patriotic sermons has failed to uphold hockey’s profile in our country.
On the other hand with opportunities aplenty, the youth are flocking towards the net rather than diverting the round ball in the rectangular net. This has led to an increase in the number of cricket coaching academies, as parents feel that investing in cricket is worth a punt that has a greater chance of paying of in the longer run.
The dilemma associated with awarding the status of a national sport to a particular game, is what takes precedence over the other. Do we consider how the the international community views us in correlation to the game under consideration, which somewhere down the line depends on the results obtained and our stature on the global scale. Or do we give preference to the connect that the country’s masses feel with the game, their identification with the sport, its impact on their culture, and how its growth has helped elevate them, and how their ideology is best represented by the game under the spotlight?
They say the beauty of the past is, that it cannot change, and that we can only learn from it. But why do we want to learn from it? So that we can ensure a better and brighter future. That cricket with its modern outlook, a promising platform, and economic benefits should be proclaimed as our national sports has been mooted many a times before. It’s time for the deafening roars, time for each man to search his own soul.
For as a ‘matter of fact’ it is upto us to decide whether we want the game which set the sporting ball rolling in our country, and brought us global recognistion and fame, to be pushed into obscurity, to be confined to the pages of history. It’s a question that every one of us faces. Bound by tradition or freedom to discover newer places? For the symbol it seems is losing its traces.