Responding to the cacophony of criticism over the plunging standard of the sport in the country, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) on Friday night launched a National Youth Hockey Development Programme that, it hopes, will unearth the next generation of hockey players that would bring back the glory days of the 1940s and '50s.
Fuelled by an infusion of what is reportedly a Rs 2 crore sponsorship by Mumbai-based City Group, under its flagship company, City Limouzines India Ltd that has earlier been sponsoring the women's hockey team, the IHF announced a four-year training and exposure programme for 40 talented youngsters in the age group of 16-18 selected from all over the country.
"The City Group will be giving Rs 50 lakh annually and IHF will be pooling a similar amount towards the running of the National Youth Developmental Programme," said IHF president KPS Gill. The City Group will be funding the coaching, education, diet etc of the trainees, said its chairman SM Masood.
The programme, though short of a residential academy which the IHF was expected to announce, will include the IHF Developmental XI that was started last year and had already toured Singapore for a junior's tournament. The team, coached by AK Bansal, will be playing in the ongoing 45th Bombay Gold Cup from the semi-final league stage and will participate in a 6-nation tournament for juniors in Singapore in June. Mayur Pandey of Mumbai will be in charge of the National Youth Development Programme.
Informed IHF Secretary General K Jothikumaran, "The selection process for youth developmental programme will start with the Junior Nationals starting at Guntur in Andhra Pradesh on Saturday."
Balvindar Singh Shami, Michael Kindo, Mukesh Kumar, KRK, Pandian and Ramesh Kolappa are already at Guntur and they will be picking the best talent from that tournament. Similarly, trials will be held in the six zones and the best players will be picked for national trials from which we will pick 40 players for the Youth Development programme, Jothikumaran said.
The IHF has plans to put up the selected players at the sports complex being set up by the Maharashtra government in Pune. The plan is to lodge the selected players at Pune where they will train and also complete their education. "Till the time the Pune facility is complete, the trainees will be put up at various Sports Authority of India (SAI) centres wherever a turf is available," informed Jothikumaran, saying the programme will be run with the help of SAI and Maharashtra state government.
Though the programme comes as a welcome boost for hockey in the country, it is not clear how it will be implemented. There is lot of opacity as far as its actual running is considered because IHF will be totally dependent on the state governments and SAI for its implementation. Also till the Pune facility is completed and handed over to IHF, the team will be virtually on a 'Bharat Darshan' moving all over the country according to the availability of astro-turf and residential facilities.
This dependency on others is one aspect of the entire programme that the IHF should have avoided.
However, all said and done, it comes as a timely boost for the sport that had plunged to new lows at the Asian Games last December if IHF manages to run it successfully.