India to host third Men's World Cup in quick succession - good for the game or is it all about the money?
It was Air Marshal Nur Khan, of Pakistan who came up with the idea of introducing a World Cup and a Champions Trophy to make hockey more appealing and competitive the world over - while the latter was shelved last year to make way for the Pro League, the former has remained relevant and, arguably, grown in stature thanks to neighbours India.
Why else would the FIH, in its infinite wisdom, decide to award the World Cup to India yet again after Delhi 2010 and Odisha 2018?
India has for long been the spiritual home of hockey and following the FIH's announcement, on Friday, that the global hockey extravaganza would return to India in 2023, it now appears that the country is also the home of the World Cup of hockey.
Not surprisingly, many would argue, after the resounding success of last year's event in Bhubaneswar - after all, which other hockey nation in the world can hope to replicate a Bollywood-style opening ceremony or create a frenzied media buzz the way India does?
Odisha 2018 has set new standards with regard to how a hockey World Cup can and, perhaps, should be organized - never before has the hockey world witnessed an event similar in scale to what was witnessed at the World Cup last year.
It was not just the pomp and splendour - foreign players and coaches vouched for the fact that the practise facilities and dressing rooms were second-to-none, and apart from a few replacements which were necessitated by players falling ill, the tournament was conducted without a hitch.
Despite the undeniable pride that the country feels as a result of the erstwhile national game clawing its way back to where it rightfully belongs, a few uncomfortable questions remain.
Why, for instance, are the Indians not as keen to host the women's edition especially as the eves have been performing exceptionally well over the last year or so - and is organizing a World Cup actually helping the game to grow at the grassroots?
Four Men's World Cups in India - none for the Women
The 2022 Women's World Cup will be co-hosted by Spain and Netherlands - the Dutch, incidentally, had also hosted the Men's and Women's events in 2014.
FIH Master Coach Siegfried Aikman was at Bhubaneswar during last year's World Cup and also during the FIH Series Finals in 2017 - what's more, the Dutchman also followed the tournament at Delhi in 2010 and is no doubt familiar with events back home in the Netherlands.
The veteran mentor who coached the Japanese men's side to a historic Asian Games gold medal told Sportskeeda, in an exclusive interaction, that he disapproved of FIH's decisions both with regard to the Men's and Women's events - and in true Aikman style, elucidated the reasons for his displeasure.
"Indian children not taking up hockey in spite of World Cups being hosted"
One of the primary objectives behind hosting an important world sporting event is to give the sport in question a boost - but Aikman's interactions with Indian schoolchildren have given him a strong impression that in spite of the interest generated, there is not much scope to learn the game due to lack of infrastructure at the grassroots.
I strongly believe that it’s not good to host the men’s World Cup for the third time in 13 years, in India, if you want the sport to grow globally. It would have been better to award it to Malaysia because they are having trouble developing their hockey - or to Spain where they can do with more hockey players.
The World Cup always gives the home country a boost. In India, that doesn’t work at all. After the World Cup in Delhi - where the stands were mostly empty - hardly any children took up hockey. It was the same after the 2018 World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
When I was in Bhubaneswar for the World Series Finals, I checked with some schoolchildren who told me that they watched hockey - but had no opportunity to try it because there were no facilities available in school.
In Holland, the World Cups of 1973, 1998, and 2014 created a lot of hockey participation. It changed hockey in Holland from being a minor sport to what it is now. Hockey in Belgium is booming after the country won the World Cup and European Cup.
The fifth edition of the Men's World Cup was held in Mumbai (Bombay) in 1982, eleven years after the tournament was launched - but as the nation begins a countdown to host a fourth in 2023, it is about time that the Indian hockey fraternity made an effort to bring the women's edition of the World Cup to its shores for once.
Aikman opines that awarding the World Cups to the same countries in quick succession is not a good idea - and feels strongly that India should have hosted the women's event.
Hockey needs to grow globally. For this reason, I strongly disagree with India and Holland being awarded World Cups shortly after the last one.
This time, the Women's World Cup should have gone to Spain or India so women's hockey could have got a shot in the arm - and because the Indian Eves are doing very well. It's a missed chance for women's hockey in India.
The Kalinga Stadium has been transformed into the nerve centre of Indian hockey ever since the Champions Trophy of 2014 which was followed by the HWL in 2017, but Aikman wonders how focussing on a single venue can help the game flourish elsewhere in a country as large as India.
If you want to organize the World Cup in India it has to Bhubaneswar because that’s the only place you will get the big crowds in for hockey.
The Hockey India League proved it - and all recent tournaments have been held there - it also doesn’t help hockey grow all over India.
Malaysia always brings great crowds to a Hockey World Cup and it would have been a really good advertisement for hockey there if they had been awarded the tournament.
"India will always win the bid if it comes to money"
Whether or not the decision to award India yet another World Cup is good for the game at a global level remains to be seen, but like many, the Dutchman feels that India's financial clout is discouraging the other aspirants in the hosting race.
It would also be great to organize the World Cups in several cities which will automatically create more pitches and more commitment - just like what the recent Rugby World Cup did in Japan.
This is what a World Cup can do to developing countries - and that opportunity we fail to use only for money. Unfortunately, it’s money, money, and money that the FIH is after and - yes India will always win the bid if it comes to money.
That will not encourage other countries to go for it anymore.