It is unfortunate that just when it’s chin-up time for Indian hockey, the powers-that-be of Indian sports should give it the thumbs-down. Not that the Sports Ministry’s decision to ‘demote’ hockey would have much of an impact on the national game, considering the lip service paid to hockey even when it was on the ministry’s so-called ‘priority list’. The government is supposed to offer generous financial assistance to the listed games for everything from participation in international competitions and training abroad to buying equipment and staging national and international championships in India. But this evidently never happened and, compared to other countries, government allocation for sports in India is negligible.
It is no secret that in a land where monetary rewards are confined to a few sport streams like cricket and — to a much lesser extent — soccer, there’s hardly any incentive to inspire India’s immense hockey talent. Why else should some of the best dribblers in the world get to stay at hotels where even state cricket teams wouldn’t? Or the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) take for granted that players would play their hearts out for paltry match fee at the end of the day?
India’s entry into the semifinals of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tourney proves that the current crop of players can play aggressive hockey against the best teams in the world. It is time the IHF pulled up its socks and nurtured the players so that India’s slide in international ratings could be arrested and it qualifies for the Beijing Olympics next year. The IHF must realise that merely establishing sports centres is no panacea, when research into technical aspects of the game lags so far behind that of other hockey-playing countries. Even a small country like Holland has more than 250 hockey turfs, as against India’s 20-odd (of which only six are in use). The IHF should also try to attract sponsorship support from people — both in India and abroad — keen to invest in the game. That would be the best way for the country to re-emerge as a vibrant hockey-playing nation.