Starry-eyed youngsters from the hinterland aim for the big league | india | Hindustan Times
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Starry-eyed youngsters from the hinterland aim for the big league

Within the portals of the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, the future of Indian hockey is being shaped by teenagers hailing from all parts of the country.

india Updated: Nov 02, 2010 01:38 IST
Alberto Furlan

Within the portals of the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, the future of Indian hockey is being shaped by teenagers hailing from all parts of the country.

Here for the 28th Nehru Hockey Tournament, for some this is the start of a long career in hockey, but for even those who won't make it to the national squad, the sport has already led to vastly improved lives.

"We get Rs 75 per day for diet from the central government," say Santosh Mianto and Felix Baa, players of St Ignatius High School, Gumla, Jharkhand. The two were selected after trials to be in the local sports hostel, sponsored by the Sports Authority of India, and now train twice a day and go to school within the hostel premises.

Had they not been selected, they would have been doing manual labour. "Probably, farming," adds Baa.

Their ambitions lie either in playing for the national or an institutional team.

The Railways are the most sought after team among Orissa players while others mentioned Air India or Police.

A player from Tulasipur High School, Cuttack, Orissa, said he got Rs 100 for food from the state government. Some of his friends, who don't play hockey, sometimes miss out on a meal.

Hockey opens a door of opportunity for these young athletes through a system that gets them to school, university and finally a job. When the day's last match ends, the juniors' future plays out before them as the senior teams begin to train.

The players receive a starting salary of Rs 15,000 to 20,000 and if they decide to quit the sport, a "general duty job" awaits them. Winning tournaments attracts bonuses or the chance to move to bigger teams.

Like the juniors, the big boys too have come up through the academies and sports hostels.

As the boys hone their skills, a keen onlooker watches from the sidelines. Olympian Harbinder Singh, 67, who has traversed the same route, had a word of advice.

"I have travelled to Europe several times and played against the best teams in the world --- Australia, New Zealand and Spain," said the Arjuna awardee, gold medallist at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

"These kids have a life to look forward to thanks to hockey."