Is the worth of a sporting achievement meaningful only if it is rewarded in tangible, monetary form? This would appear so if one goes by the hysteria generated by the electronic media over the pittance being paid to the players by the hockey federation after India won the Asian Champions Trophy.
The players felt so affronted by the meagre Rs25000 the federation announced for their win, that they decided to forgo it. The media and experts echoed the humiliation of the players and in their outrage pilloried the federation. In a country where cricketers get lakhs as match fees and crores for a win, how could our hockey players be treated like "third grade employees" was the sentiment behind this self-righteous anger.
The votaries of the free market-driven economy were not willing to buy the reasoning that the monetary reward was so little because the hockey federation is almost bankrupt and survives on government funding.
The crassness of the money-achievement equation may appear incomprehensible to all those who rejoiced at India team winning the World Cup and felt its true worth was recognised only when huge monetary rewards were announced for the players. We live in a world, which seems to believe that an act's worth can be judged only by the amount of money you can make from it. By that corollary, Hockey India did belittle its team that got its due only when the sports ministry was forced to remind the world that it has a scheme that rewards such achievements with a substantial amount, though pittance again when compared with cricket.
In our anger fuelled by comparisons with an immensely popular, corporate funded, cash-rich professional sport like cricket, we forget that there are no takers for hockey in India. If the government were to withdraw its support to the game, it would collapse in no time. The HI has its own faults, bedeviled as it is with infighting and neglect of the game, but the fact also remains that hockey is not a popcorn-munching, middleclass TV-watching sport and is starving for funds and corporate support.
What others get
And this is not true for India alone but for most of the hockey-playing nations. Australia, the World Cup champs, do not pay their players a substantial match fee, if any, for representing their country. The same is true for other top European countries. Nor are they showered with money when they win far more important tournaments than this. It will be worth finding out how much the Aussies gained monetarily when they won the World Cup?
'Indians are lucky'
I quote here Michael Nobbs, the Aussie coach under whose supervision India won the event: "I think Indian players are a privileged lot. They have jobs because they play hockey. They don't have to work in offices; they get paid for playing the sport. In Australia, or even in many European countries, players have jobs and they take time off to play, they are not paid anything for it."
The Indian players are luckier than their counterparts from other nations in that they get reasonably good jobs once they represent their country and unlike them, don't have to take pay cuts to do so. Why, despite this, they play better hockey than us and win more often, has obviously to do with a system and a society, which is better geared to produce a champion team. It is not always about money alone, and thank God for it!