Hockey happens to be the only game that does not have a completely left hand driven player. All other sports and games have such players the famous ones being Rafael Nadal, Martina Navratilova, Brian Lara, Wasim Akram, Phil Mickelson and Lionel Messi just to name a few. The reason is that the available apparatus/ equipment used in these is amenable for being used by left handed, right handed and ambidextrous people alike.
So where is the problem in field hockey? Well, the problem lies with the design of the hockey stick. With the blade having a curved surface on the right and a flat surface on the left the stick can be used comfortably only by a right hander and not by a left hander. In order to bring home this point let me narrate an incident that happened during my school days. We were playing an inter- class hockey match and the opposing team was giving us a good fight. I noticed that a player from the other team had gripped the stick in the left handed mode that is the left hand below the right hand. His problems as the match proceeded became quite evident. He had difficulty while dribbling, scooping and hitting the ball since his primary left arm and body could not extend far right to get that required thrust and comfort level. Even when he played to his left the stick imposed a problem by offering the reverse side which is effectively just over half a blade. The overall impact left was of a playing style that was neither fluent nor effective besides looking awkward.
How is it that ever since the existence of hockey as an organized sport, a left handed player of international repute has never been able to grace it with his skills? It is indeed surprising that right from the games supreme governing body to the school level, no one in authority has ever identified this lacuna and taken steps to make the game playable for left handers.
The lacuna lies in the rules framed by the apex body governing international hockey, the FIH. As per these the game will be played only by a stick whose design has been stipulated namely that it has a curved surface on the right of the blade and flat surface on the left thereby making it usable solely by right handed players. Secondly, the design of the stick stipulated as such the rules go onto state categorically that the game will be played only with these sticks, the underlying intention being that dangerous play leading to serious injuries could ensue if both right handed and left handed players using their respectively designed sticks are allowed to mill around the same arena.
Notwithstanding these rules, I would like to ask FIH and all its affiliate bodies and organisations as to why one of the most beautiful and graceful games was never promoted for playing by completely left hand driven players right through the existence of these bodies for over a hundred years. Why was the game monopolized and structured only for right handers?
I can think of only two principle reasons for this lack of promotion. The first reason would have to be the constantly perceived notion by FIH that the number of left hand driven people is very low in number and thus arranging tournaments for them would be impossible. The low number however could also be attributed to non-availability of required sticks whenever a left hand driven player-children and adults at school and college level-chose to play the game and thus got demotivated to pursue it further. The second reason is perhaps the ability for some left hand driven persons managing through sheer grit and determination to adopt (no other choice!) and adapt to right handed playing.
Despite these extenuating though inadequate arguments I feel that we can make a start at least by framing rules of hockey for left handers and by stipulating the design of the stick to be used by them. By doing so the gates would open for these players, hockey associations, educational institutions and manufacturers since legal hurdles would have been cleared.
In this age of internet word would spread to all corners of the world about such a measure. Who knows then that the perceived low numbers may actually turn out to be higher and that converts to right hand hockey may reverse migrate to their preferred brand of hockey, thus further swelling the numbers.
Let’s remember, Rome was not built in a day and that the Olympic movement started only with very few athletic events. So it’s going to take some time but let’s begin by taking the first important initial steps. Even if some countries muster twenty players at the national level we would be able to organize an international tournament. With the International Left Handers Day and National Sports Day (India) to commemorate the great hockey wizard Dhyanchand’s birthday were recently celebrated on 13th Aug and 29THAug respectively. Let these occasions inspire us to bring hockey to a neglected section of society.
I am a retired colonel from the Indian Army. I have been a keen writer and observer of every-day life and issues. I have played almost all games during my younger days and while serving in the army. I write regularly to newspapers and magazines with letters having been published in publications like Times of India, Hindustan Times, India Today, The Outlook and Readers Digest. I was the editor of a monthly dedicated to the Corps of Signals of the Indian Army.