Recollecting A rare hockey feat when the sport is passing through its worst phase might appear strange, but December 19, 1966 is not just another day in a heritage called Indian hockey. The victory, achieved on that day at the Bangkok Asian Games 40 years ago, has enough lessons for us to seek remedy for the Doha disaster.
The 1966 Asiad hockey gold, won under the world’s first ever goalkeeper-captain Shankar Laxman (he breathed his last this year at Mhow in Madya Pradesh), is the only occasion when India shone both as the Olympic and Continental Champions. Mere narration of events and nostalgic recollections of success will be rendered useless unless we go into the circumstances prevailing then: Why were we successful then?
For that analysis to be a meaningful one, the history of the sport should be studied in true perspective. To start with, let’s have an open mind. And let’s not discount every past victory as a cakewalk achieved against weak and meek oppositions! Nothing can be further from truth. Such a view, though widespread, is a folly, arrived without application of mind, and would deter us from taking lessons from the past.
Solitary goals separated winners from the losers in the grass era when every rule was meant to block a goal from being scored. Off-side trap, 11-men penalty-corner defence and strict stick rules were all meant to stop goals. At Bangkok in 1966, India won three matches with 1-0 scores and two with 3-0. India scored a total of 9 goals from 5 matches and the gold was won! At Doha, even Hong Kong managed more goals than this!
The conclusion we draw is that the competition then was much tougher. Still, we were winners because the system we developed and nurtured produced results, whereas the present one under KPS Gill has failed. In fact, there is no system at all.
Till the 90s, probables were selected after Inter-University and National Championships. The campers were pruned in a phased manner. Coaches were selected following national debate, and those selected had proven track records. Of course, there were controversies during their tenures, but their stints never lasted months or days! Only those who would be with the campers for a specified period could become managers.
Top bosses in the IHF wielded some influence in team selection, but the selection committee had its say. Teams were selected months in advance, giving them ample time to forge formidable units. Squads were ratified by the IHF’s Executive Board, where a sizeable number of them were really knowledgeable. Even a minor lapse in procedure used to invite government’s wrath, and getting tours sanctioned was one hell of a job.
The selected team toured India and played against provincial teams before departure, which meant, the best had to be in the team. Thus, the Indian players walked with heads held high and drew enormous respect among the playing community, not to speak of the public. The media wrote about them, and the Federation considered such writings their marketing tools.
Managers used to submit reports after each tour and selectors resigned if the results were bad. Players were dropped for bad performances and recalls without reasoning were next to impossible. In the event of the team failing, sure there were knee-jerk reactions, but not another hurried tour. The IHF, government and the All India Council of Sports --- which exercised enormous powers --- followed the axiom “defeat breeds defeat” and, therefore, never tolerated one. Not everything was rosy or perfect, but at least a genuine attempt was made.
And what happens now?
Everything is done in reverse. The Nationals are held only if there are sponsors. Only one national championship was held between Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.
The 2006 Jalandhar Nationals were announced after the Doha Asian Games probables were announced! Anybody can become a coach or manager. About their tenure, the less said the better. Despite the outcome of their work, they can bounce back any number of times. They thus lose credibility with the players.
Wearing India colours is made easy and, in most cases, selectors don’t even assemble before putting their signatures on the team list. Teams leave without any ceremony and return without deserving one. National players talk to media in hushed tones and don’t want to be quoted.
The objectives behind many tours are not known. Experimentation is a ploy the present day coaches devised to fool the Federation. What is the reason behind playing 21 internationals within a span of four months after the Athens Olympics fiasco?
The government keeps complaining that manager’s reports are not submitted. The reason: They were simply not written!
Success comes if one follows a system, not by destroying it. This is the lesson for us from 1966. Players of that era were not magicians, but polished products of a time-tested system. Restore that system and regain the prestige. Aim to win and feel the joy of winning.