It has played a key role in the development of hockey stalwarts like Dhanraj Pillay, Joaquim Carvalho, Mervyn Fernandes, MM Somaya, Viren Rasquinha, Adrian D’Souza and current stars like Yuvraj and Devinder Walmiki.
In more than four decades of its existence, top national teams like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, Air India, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Namdhari XI have participated in the Mumbai Hockey Association’s Super Division League (MHAL), the most prestigious domestic hockey league along with the Karnataka hockey association’s Super League in Bangalore.
For years, the MHAL league had been the regular feature of the domestic circuit along with the Bangalore league and has played a key role in development of many players.
But like a number of hockey tournaments that have lost their glory days or died a silent death, the Mumbai hockey league has lost its sheen and is fighting a battle for survival.
The league is played in six divisions with the Super Division League being the most prestigious which has seen most of country’s top teams vying for honours at the Mahindra Stadium over the years.
However, this year, the league will be held from Monday with only seven teams in the fray and not one national-level competitor participating. The Mumbai Hockey Association (MHA) proudly lists Air India, ONGC and Indian Oil among teams registered with it and these teams have participated in the Super Division League for years. But this year, they seems to have given short shrift to the league and cried off citing other engagements.
Thus, local outfits, Western Railway, Central Railway, Indian Navy, Central Secretariat, Union Bank of India, Abhi Foundation and Bombay Republicans will be vying for the top prize of Rs 1.10 lakh out of a total prize fund of Rs 2 lakh. The runner-up team, decided after a series of round-robin matches followed by a final between the top two finishers, will pocked a cheque of Rs 70,000 for their efforts – which is not a big amount for a team comprising 18 players.
In contrast, the same Super Division League had 14 teams in 2015 including three national-level teams Air India, Indian Oil and Punjab National Bank.
Clash of dates
Asked why they are conducting the league with only seven teams, Mumbai Hockey Association (MHA) secretary Ram Singh Rathor blamed clash of dates for the absence of national-level teams.
“We had sought dates from Hockey India but were told that there was no vacant slot for this period because of a clash with Obaidullah Gold Cup and Shastri Hockey Tournament. As our season starts with the Super Division League, we had to go ahead without teams like Air India, Indian Oil because they are playing in other tournaments. The local teams wanted to play in October as they would not be free later in the season, so we decided to go ahead with only the local teams,” Rathor told HT on Sunday.
Rathor admitted it was an unfortunate situation and said they have conveyed their displeasure to Hockey India. “We have decided to apply for dates for the 2017 edition now itself so that we don’t face this kind of situation next year,” Rathor added.
Whether the MHA becomes more proactive and actually applies for dates well in advance to avoid recurrence of this type of situation, Hockey India should also give some leeway to the only functional domestic league in the country. A slot of around 20 days can be created for a league that has produced so many stars. Hockey has long lost its pre-eminent position to cricket in this country, losing prestigious events like the MHA League will further undermine the position of the sport.