Former Olympians are justifiably anguished. For a generation which saw the golden days of hockey with India standing on Olympic and World Cup Podium, now seeing hockey downgraded from priority to general category is indeed government’s "childish act". If only, purely for sentimental reasons, and the fact that most of them might never witness the sad day when our record of eight Olympic Gold gets erased. But, unfortunately, their contention that we have performed badly only in the recent past is not quite on target.
Our last success at the world level was in 1975, when we won the World Cup for the first and the only time. We did manage to lift the Olympic gold in 1980 in the then Soviet Union, but with top countries – Australia, Holland, Pakistan and Germany – boycotting the games, the gold had lost much of its lustre. Then there was the Asian Games gold in 1998, which in no way can compare with Olympics or the World Cup.
Our record looks even more dismal when we see that after our only World Cup win in 1975, we have not been able to enter the semifinal of a World Cup tournament again. And after 1980 Olympic triumph, there was no semifinal place for India. Few times we reached close enough, but it was never good enough. It was certainly not due to the lack of efforts of little-paid players.
Some sacrificed their promising careers for a losing cause. It was not even the demon of Astro-turf. It was simply lack of accountability of the powers at the top. Compared to cricket we are indeed better placed in hockey. At least we usually remain among the top ten from over 100 countries actively playing this game.
In cricket, we even sweat to beat a team like Bangladesh. Indeed, the decision will affect the chances of India as it hosts the hockey World Cup and the Commonwealth Games in 2010. But under the present dispensation, India will probably be again fighting for ranking places and not for the medals.
However, when IHF President KPS Gill says that hockey’s demotion will not affect the game as it only means it will get less funds and "we have not been getting much assistance from the ministry anyway", the whole debate becomes meaningless at least in commercial terms. And "priority" or "general" debate becomes only a matter of respect and pride for the game of hockey."
On the positive side, more support from corporate sector which hockey will need now to sustain itself, might just go on to make it more accountable. It might make the IHF more transparent and result oriented, much to the benefit of the Indian hockey.
That could be the only silver lining in the present decision.