Not so long back, former India skipper, Pargat Singh, had said, "Hockey is in intensive-care unit; it needs truckloads of oxygen to survive". His scathing statement hinted at the lack of 'fresh ideas' that is the root cause of degeneration of the sport in the country. The Olympic Qualifiers, underway at the National Stadium, should have been an excellent platform to reach out to the masses. Unfortunately, the first two days of the tournament have sent a clear message to the hockey aficionados - watch the game only if you have the patience to brave the irritants.
If reaching the venue after negotiating the notorious Delhi traffic is not a big enough task, parking one's vehicle is a nightmare. In fact, this is an international event that actually says at the back of the ticket that spectators should manage their own parking! The long walk from the parking to the seat surely dissuades many a potential fan. Even two days after witnessing empty stands, it hasn't struck Hockey India (HI) officials - many of whom have adequate administrative experience - that a more hospitable approach is needed to attract spectators. Feeder services from the nearest metro station and the India Gate parking would go some way in attracting more people to the joy of live hockey.
Hockey is a common man's game and people running the federation should always keep this in mind. Traditionally, almost all star players in the past have come from mediocre backgrounds.
To fill the stands, the least the federation could have done was to price the tickets cheap. At Rs500 and Rs300, respectively, the tickets, though not beyond the reach of the common man, are definitely not all that attractive, thus being another major reason for low attendance. Hockey India needs to be realistic about just what the regular hockey fan can afford. While tickets are mandatory for international hockey federation sanctioned events, the pricing could've been structured suitably.
Something was seriously wrong on Sunday, as despite the hosts playing crucial matches, the stadium was not even one-fourth full. Compare this with an FIH-sanctioned event in Perth recently, where people came in droves to watch the action. There was enough parking space; food stalls, unlike in India, were not fleecing them and smiling security men were at hand to guide them to their seats.
We can only dream of such a scenario, unless, of course, the people who run the show here change their approach. Perhaps, the best way to get these administrators to learn is by making them undergo the same hardships a common man goes through ... just so that he can watch a sport that he is passionate about. Of course, even the die-hard fan will quail from getting friends and family along.