The past and future of Indian hockey: India's chances at the 2016 Olympics
A look at the history of hockey in the country shows some standout achievements by the Indian side, with hockey players of the past winning many laurels. Without a doubt, the history of Indian sports is highly glorified by the incredible achievements of the hockey side.
But it plays out like a movie, where the first half holds up better than the second half. You will be thrilled by the sizzling chemistry between the former players while being bored by the coordination among recent players.
Hockey still remains a sport which is famous for the glory and fame it brought the country, but the present state of Indian hockey has no comparison to its past. It seems the pillar of Indian hockey has been broken by its own organizations. Now they are the minnows in the international arena trying to stand in front of some of the giants of the game.
With all these highs and lows, Field Hockey still holds the unofficial status of the national game of India. But can the minnows pull off the giants? To get the answer, we need to wait for the next Olympics games, which will take place from the 5th to the 21st of August 2016.
Indian Hockey and the Olympics
Whenever we consider Olympics then Indian hockey has an extraordinary record of winning a total of 8 gold medals, 1 silver and 2 bronze medal. In addition to these feats, they also won the Hockey World Cup in 1975. After India’s gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, the youth of India have never experienced the thrill of India winning any world title in hockey.
The status of the sport in India gradually downgraded itself due to lack of exposure and promotion. It reached a low point when the Indian hockey team failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, they managed to qualify for the London Olympics by winning the qualifier against France four years later and moved forward to the games with the dream of restoring the glorious past of Indian Hockey.
All of India was praying for the success of the team, but Indian Hockey had an abysmal showing at the Olympics as the team finished its campaign at the bottom. Four years later, the team is yet again ready to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The only difference is that this time they are not going to play any qualifiers as they have already qualified by virtue of winning the gold medal in the 2014 Asia Cup. They have more time to prepare themselves and should be ready to take up any challenges. But what are the chances?
India's chances at the Olympics
Before proceeding to analyse their chances at Olympics, it is important to first look at India’s current form. The team are currently ranked 9th, with a rating point of 1339 just ahead of arch-rivals Pakistan. The team is led by Sardar Singh under the guidance of chief coach Roelant Oltmans, and has been doing exceptionally well on the international circuit for the last few years.
They have defeated top teams like Germany and won a test series in Australia, although this was an experimental Australian squad. Their best result was winning the gold medal at the Asia Cup 2014 by defeating Pakistan in penalty shootouts. This was what eventually earned them a qualifying spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The team has adequate time to prepare for the Olympics. Their preparation was on track following the results of the Hockey World League semi-finals, where the team finished 4th. Just when it seemed as though everything was organised and going smoothly, the politics between the coach and the federation hit the team, and hard.
The internal conflict between Paul van Ass, who is the team’s head coach and the administrators created some headlines, with Van Ass being sacked by Hockey India. Some reports suggested that the Dutchman was sacked due to the delay of his return to the training camp.
As per sources, van Ass was supposed to join the training camp on 18th July but failed to do so. In the meantime, Hockey India has appointed van Ass’ compatriot Roelant Oltmans as head coach in his place, and the Indian team will be guided under him for the next Olympics.
How will this affect the team’s performance?
With the Olympics just a year away, it will not be an easy task for the team to adjust under a new coach. The team, which had been producing good quality hockey under Paul van Ass, will not be the same again. Understanding new tactics and playing with a new game plan under a new coach will not be easy.
Oltmans has previously been associated with the Indian Hockey team as its high-performance director. However Indian captain Sardar Singh is unhappy with this replacement. According to Singh, “when a coach is replaced, the players face difficulty. The team's strategy also changes with the change in coach and it takes time in building the side. But we are positive about the Olympics and the upcoming tours."
What should we expect from Team India?
It is the standard and quality of the players which will yield results. Based solely on these factors India, is far away from the top teams like Australia, The Netherlands and Germany. There are immensely talented hockey players in the Indian squad, but they lack quality.
Apart from captain Sardar Singh and a few others, there are not many world class players who can turn the match by their own hands.
Another crucial aspect of hockey is physical fitness. In a game of hockey, a player has to run the equivalent of 8-10km in a match, which seems to be a difficult task considering players’ current fitness levels. These are a few of the factors those need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Based on the team's current track record, spectators can expect a better performance from the Indian Hockey team this time. Any spot within the top six could be considered an absolutely strong performance.