It is an understatement to call this the ‘darkest chapter’ in Indian hockey. After all, it wasn’t just a crunch match that India lost to Great Britain in Santiago. Even the Brits must have been surprised, the way the eight-time Olym-pic gold medallists never recovered from the shock of two early goals — to exit the games for the first time in 80 years.
Instead of playing the blame game, administrators and players should consider this a reality check. A good place to begin damage control would be the governing bodies, with former international players replacing bureaucrats and politicians. There is a clear lack of interest in hockey at the grassroots level, as the declining number of children involved in the game in traditional hockey playing states like Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana and Tamil nadu prove. But merely establishing sports centres is no answer, when research into technical aspects of the game lags far behind that of Europe and Oceania.
The world still admires the natural flair of subcontinental players, with their supple wrists, hips, and knees that lend an enormous advantage over opponents. But Indians are still aliens on the artificial turf, where the speed and fitness levels required are very different. In fact, India’s slump began after the astro-turf was introduced Montreal, in 1976.
It’s time we nurtured talent at the sub-junior and junior levels, with matches played on astroturf — especially in villages that are huge talent pools. Players and coaches should adopt modern tactics and techniques, and the under-14, 16, and 19 level programmes restructured, based on scientific fitness regimes, without sacrificing the attacking Asian style. On its part, the Indian Hockey Federation must learn from its cricket counterpart to sell hockey better by attracting sponsors. Don’t expect Olympic silverware overnight, but a focused effort should see India re-emerge as a vibrant hockey-playing nation.