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Fading interest is hockey's bane

The team is playing at the World Cup in Germany, with none to match the stature or calibre of the past greats.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2006 19:09 IST

India's once-mighty hockey team is grappling with eroding interest at home after decades of continued failure at the world level.

India's national game until cricket soared in popularity on the back of a shock World Cup victory in 1983, hockey players now jostle for attention alongside golf, shooting and tennis.

The national players were hailed as heroes when they won eight Olympic titles, dominating the game in the first half of 20th century and then claiming the World Cup in 1975.

However, the team has entered the World Cup, which starts in Germany on Wednesday, with none to match the stature or calibre of the past greats.

Their last success globally came at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, where the US-led boycott meant of the 11 teams that competed in Montreal in 1976 only India and Spain were present.

Their last significant title was at the 1998 Asian Games.

A reward of 10 million rupees ($216,076) has been announced for winning in Germany, a sum few believe will have to be spent by India.

Critics blame the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) for poor management and ignoring domestic events, pointing to the infrequent staging of the national championship.

POOR COMMITMENT

Former player Ashok Kumar, a key member of the 1975 World Cup side, also criticised players for a lack of commitment.

"We know little about the team to say anything beforehand because few play regularly at domestic level," he said.

"The players don't seem to have the confidence to win," he said. "Indian teams are now going to participate, not to win."

Pakistan and India, the traditional powerhouses in world hockey, have both lagged behind the European nations and Australia in the last decade despite experiments with foreign coaches.

India's decline in particular has been sharp since they lost their firm grip at the top after the game was switched to artificial turf with more accent on power, speed and accuracy than deft stickwork.

GOING DOWNHILL

It has all been downhill in recent years. India were seventh in the last two Olympics and ninth and 10th in the previous two World Cups.

Chief coach Vasudevan Baskaran, who captained the team in Moscow, admitted success in Germany was vital to revive interest in the game at home.

"It is very important for us to win some big tournament," Baskaran said. "The boys are capable, I'm confident they will respond."

Pakistani authorities have also been alarmed by their hockey team's decline, which prompted a parliamentary probe in June.

A National Assembly committee on sports held a hearing after Pakistan, who won all the four grand slam titles in world hockey -- the Olympics, World Cup, Champions Trophy and Asian Games -- finished a disappointing fifth out of eight nations in this year's Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

Pakistan have not won a grand slam event since 1994 when they claimed both the Champions Trophy and the World Cup. Olympians blame the national federation for lacking proper planning and accountability.

Former India captain Pargat Singh said the absence of role models for youngsters was also hurting the game in the country.

"We are ranked sixth in the world, but hockey is neither promoted on TV or domestically," he said. "Ultimately, who do the kids watch?"

"If you go for a movie, you do that for the star cast, on public opinion," he said. "Here, everything is missing."