The franchise-based Hockey India League (HIL) has changed the status of the sport globally and brought in a decent amount of money but the league--- which has completed three editions and the fourth one kicked off on Monday--- has so far not been that effective in attracting crowds to stadiums with Ranchi and Bhubaneshwar the only exceptions. This year players from Pakistan are missing from the league. HT interacts with India skipper Sardar Singh, who will be seen lining up for the Punjab Warriors before their opening match of the league. Excerpts:
The HIL has improved the status of the sport globally, but has failed to attract crowds to the league?
I agree that looking into the last three editions of the league, the crowd response was not as big as we were expecting. And there was a very low turnout of spectators in some of the venues, like Delhi and Mohali. But overall, the people have liked the concept of the franchise-based league in hockey and it has helped in increasing the popularity of the sport in the country. In this edition, the venue of Delhi matches has been changed from National Stadium to Shivaji Stadium and Punjab has changed their home ground to Chandigarh from Mohali and we hope that the shifting of venue will help in bringing more crowds.
Can India’s performance in the international arena be linked with the level of popularity of the league?
In India, people have an emotional attachment with the sport because of its Olympic legacy. So they look upon the team with the hope that it will bring back the golden days. If we want people to be attracted towards the sport, then we have to finish on the podium in big ticket tournaments like Olympics or World Cup because everybody wants to be associated with the winner. Thankfully with everyone’s support, the graph of the team’s performance is going up in the last two years and we are expecting a better crowd response in all the venues this year.
The Pakistan hockey has been excluded this year as a result of its misconduct with spectators during the Champions Trophy in Bhubaneshwar in 2014. What do you think of their behaviour?
It was an unsporting incident and nobody expected this type of behaviour from sportspersons, especially in the international arena where everybody is watching you. Across the world people admire sportspersons and look toward them as a messenger for unity. And people of both nations are banking heavily on the sport to bring both nations closer. But the actions of the Pakistan team during the Champions trophy was not only against the spirit of sports but also played with the emotions of thousands of Indian spectators who were there only for the love of the game irrespective of which teams were playing. The post match celebration on the field is a common thing, whether it’s Olympics or any other event, all teams do it, but there is always a decorum to follow.
After the incident Hockey India clearly said that till the Pakistan team apologise, they will not be allowed in the HIL and there won’t be any series with them. What is the current status?
Till date they have not apologised. So that’s why there is no player from Pakistan in the HIL. So no question arises of having a series with Pakistan. First they have to apologise and after that it will be Hockey India’s call to decide on the issue.
India finished last (12th) during the London Olympics, so what’s a realistic finish you are expecting in Rio?
I agree that our performance was not good in the last Olympics (London 2012) but after that the team has worked very hard and our performance is improving. India won gold at the 2014 Asian Games and bronze in the World Hockey League finals in 2015. As far as the Rio Olympics is concerned, I would say that each and every team is coming there to win and target the medal tally and we are not an exception. But a realistic target would be to finish among the top six, where each and every team is at par and the winning and losing depends on the performance on that very day. We have five months in hand, and coaches have chalked out a plan for us. We are preparing to make it to the podium in Rio.