Lack of domestic structure seen holding back Indian hockey
In Australia or Europe, their top players have to prove their worth again and again in domestic tournaments. And their presence also helps lift the standards of the youngsters competing.Updated: Dec 15, 2018 13:28 IST
Dharmavir Singh made his India team debut on the 2009 Canada tour, and the midfielder was part of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and 2010 and 2014 Asian Games medal-winning squads.
He was an integral part of the side until he suffered a back injury at the national camp before the 2016 Champions Trophy. But once out of the camp, Dharmavir had no idea on which platform he should perform to prove his fitness and game and get noticed by the national selectors again.
This year, before the core group for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games was announced, he took part in the nationals held in Lucknow. He was the highest scorer for triumphant Punjab, but only two players from that side got a call for the national camp, and Dharmavir was not one of them.
“Once out of the national camp, we have no idea which route we should follow to get back into the camp. After the Hockey India League ended last year, we have no idea in which domestic tournament we should participate where the national selectors will at least assess our game,” says the 28-year-old.
“I am not saying ‘take me in the team’. My only issue is at least give me a chance or platform where I can be considered for the national camp. If I don’t deserve, it’s fine, but without opportunity you feel helpless,” he adds.
Former stalwart, Col Balbir Singh, says: “Hockey India League played an important role in lifting the standard of our hockey, but we need a permanent, ongoing domestic structure from where the players get a chance in the national camp.”
In Australia or Europe, their top players have to prove their worth again and again in domestic tournaments. And their presence also helps lift the standards of the youngsters competing.
All the teams that have qualified for the semi-finals in this World Cup --- Australia, Netherlands, England and Belgium -- have strong domestic structures, which is the secret of their winning medals in top tournaments like World Cup and Olympics.
Australia has its national level tournament, Australian Hockey League (AHL). Eight teams, winners of the intra-province tournament, compete in AHL, which provides the platform for players to get into the national squad.
Belgium and Holland have strong club leagues from where the national team is picked, while England has its own Hockey League.
“In Australia, the national league plays an important role in providing an opportunity to the players to get into the national squad. So, if India wants to be among the top teams, they have to strengthen their domestic structure. In the absence of Hockey India League, the domestic system has to be strong,” says former Australian hockey great Ric Charlesworth, who has also worked with the India team.
In India, apart from the national championship, there are six-seven All-India tournaments --- Surjit in Jalandhar, Beighton Cup in Kolkata, Bombay Gold Cup, MCC Cup in Chennai, Gurmeet in Chandigarh and Nehru tournament. But over the years they have lost their sheen because these tournaments don’t have much standing when it comes to picking the national team.
“When the top players (national campers) are being restricted from participating in these tournaments, we are killing the domestic structure. I doubt whether even the national selectors are attending some of the top All-India tournaments,” says Col Balbir, who was a national selector for 10 years.
“As of now, we don’t go to the All-India tournaments, we only go to the nationals for selection,” says Olympic medallist Harbinder Singh, chairman of the national selection committee. “But I can tell you no good player in the country is left out.”
Harbinder couldn’t attend the World Cup due to family commitments. “I’m sorry to say, but at this moment, the selectors have no say. At times we don’t even get a call during the selection trials,” says a national selector, who requested anonymity.
In the teams that have reached the World Cup semi-finals, a number of players are students or do other jobs. Only a few in each team making a living through hockey. Belgium players are better off due to its strong club hockey.
But in India, hockey is a professional sport with players employed on sports quota. There is steady government funding for long camps and cash incentives for performances. Unlike in the past, India also has a number of synthetic turfs across the country.
However, as their quarterfinal defeat against Netherlands on Thursday showed, they still need to take that big step to be among the best in the business.
First Published: Dec 15, 2018 13:26 IST