Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The truth about Indian hockey

By John Cheeran
Now that Indian hockey has lived through its customary World Cup convulsions, it is easy to talk about this game dispassionately. The problem with hockey in India is that it has not too many takers. But, then, if you don’t fly into a rage, hockey is not a sport you fall in love with, wherever you are on this planet.
It is a fallacy and fantasy that hockey had huge support base in India once upon a time. Yes, India has won eight Olympic gold medals in the sport, but for most of us that’s an incredible piece of statistics, nothing else. India’s last Olympic gold came in 1980 in Moscow during an enfeebled competition when the US and its allies boycotted the event.
India’s Olympic gold medals did not create a nation-wide support base for the game when it was winning. And it is important to ask why the sport did not catch the imagination of the nation at large. A few north Indian boroughs do not make for a Pan-Indian appeal.
Many ascribe 1983 World Cup triumph for cricket’s astounding popularity in India. But much earlier, in 1975, India had won the hockey World Cup under the leadership of Ajitpal Singh. Did it lead to a surge in popularity for the game? It did not. In fact around the very same time, contours of hockey as a game were redefined.
Modern hockey is a different beast altogether which does not have much resemblance to what Dhyan Chand and his ilk used to play. It’s a fast paced sport and India has to realize that it is yet to master the basics of the new game.
Hockey, as a game, has inherent flaws. Its appeal is limited. That’s why Bolywood hottie Priyanka Chopra and cricket king Virender Sehwag urge you to give your heart to hockey in ads but themselves stay away from the hockey stadium even if it is a World Cup. It’s not a place to be seen.
Hockey is not football, it’s not even cricket.
Hockey is hockey and it is quite sad that not many are willing to watch this sport which definitely calls for a high degree of skills and loads of talent.
And I’m certain that even if India emerges as World Cup winner and Olympic champion in hockey in the coming years, there will not be any increase in the support base for the game. It will remain as a game played by a select few for the pleasure of a select few. It would be difficult for many, and especially hockey watchers, to accept such a viewpoint.
In the next years, sports such as NBA, football and tennis would demand more attention from the Indian public and the space for hockey would be shrinking fast, despite whatever the players would achieve on astroturfs.

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