Hockey takes centre stage in seven days. The World Cup will bring in the best international teams to the Capital — teams known for complex strategies, precise man-marking, rapid counter offensives, crafty spadework and blinding drag flicks. The potential to recast the national sport in the mould of its glorious past is phenomenal.
However in India, a country that has been called the ‘Mecca’ of hockey, the sheen of the sport has faded and we are in times when the eight-time Olympic champions failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics two years ago. And with qualification for the 2012 Olympics in London starting at the Asian Games later this year, making it back to the Olympics fold would be an apt indicator that the game has the potential to recapture its lost position.
Despite the triumph in 1975 when India lifted its first and only World Cup title, the sport has continued its downward spiral. “The reception that we got then was exceptional. Even the cricket team’s arrival with the World Cup in 1983 was not as grand. There was passion for hockey then. It’s hardly the case now,” says Aslam Sher Khan. The passion, however, can now be revived, feel former players and sports administrators.
“There can be nothing better for the sport in India than to have its most prestigious title contested here. It is a perfect platform to encourage the younger generation,” says Vijay Kumar Malhotra, senior vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). He, however, emphasises that the World Cup is the perfect time to deal with certain shortcomings in the administration. “The incentives, monetary or otherwise, should be increased and the infrastructure needs to be expanded.”
President of the now defunct Indian Hockey Federation, KPS Gill feels hockey has not lost public support but lacks innovation. “The World Cup is a start but hockey is in need of creative ideas in the contemporary age. Premier Hockey League was immensely popular and, if tournaments on those lines can be organised at a national level, it will do the game a lot of good,” he says.
Gill also feels that more international matches need to be played in the country. “It is difficult to get European teams to compete in India in their off season. More tournaments need to be organised on the lines of the World Cup.”
However, big tournaments require big money and that’s where the corporates come into picture.
Sahara India chairman Subroto Roy sent across a clear message when he said: “I do not like the word sponsors. I have a genuine affection for the game and therefore, I support it.”