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Aug 18

Written by: Sundeep Misra
Saturday, August 18, 2012 

Yet another Olympics is over. As the dust finally settles, the rubble of the Indian hockey campaign is slowly coming into vision.

Over in England, while still in a daze over their best ever Olympic haul – 29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze – preparations have begin for the 2016 Rio Olympics. And some hard decisions would be taken over certain performances which didn’t reach the required level in London. UK Sport, the body that distributes elite funding to Olympic sports, has a pot of £508m (Rs 3600 crores) to divide. The assurance required to receive funding is simple – Sports disciplines have to demonstrate that their teams or athletes are cap able of winning medals in four years' time or, failing that, are able to qualify and finish in the top eight.

In other words, if India operated on the same terms, Indian hockey would not get funding. It also means the national team would not have any money for training or travelling overseas. It would have to rely on sponsors; after the 12th place finish, finding hockey players on Mars would be easier than sponsors.

There has been a silence on the hockey front since the team arrived and escaped probably from the back door of the airport (customs officials can be quite cutting and caustic with their remarks when a failed hockey team returns). None of the players have made any statements. After we beat France 8-1 in Delhi to qualify, some of the players even wanted money to talk to the media. Now suddenly all that seems like an eternity back. It would have been good for the sport if a few senior players had come out and spoken about the debacle and the reasons. It would have been a show of courage; at least Bharat Chettri showed up after every match at the mandatory press conference to say: “I don’t know what’s going wrong.” After the sixth defeat, he finally found the answer: “We are not good enough for the Olympics.” But through the six press conferences, one did feel he was straining at the leash to say something. But had the required intelligence not to blurt out something controversial while the tournament was on.

So how and where does Indian hockey travel from here? For the time being, it will be grounded until the players peep out from their hiding holes and exclaim: “Hey guys, looks like the nation has forgiven, sorry, forgotten.” Traditionally, we have forgotten. We forget victories in a matter of days, defeats are faster. For a sport that is fast losing its sheen, if any at all is left, it needs to seriously overhaul its domestic competitions.

It will be good for Indian hockey if the team is grounded for a year while foreign teams are invited to come to India and play us on our home grounds. We might end up at the Melbourne Champions Trophy in December and finish 4th. Unfortunately that will start off the media again – Team back on path and all those kind of headlines without seeing the team lists that would suggest the top teams might have come with curtailed talent.

The national coach Michael Nobbs needs to streamline the domestic circuit and make it into a League A, B and C. We desperately need a three-tier league. The ten top teams play the A, the second ten or eight play B and then the last six or eight play C. All tournaments need to be scrapped. There is no point in having India’s oldest tournament, the Beighton Cup, if no team or player wants to play. Put aside emotion and nostalgia and look to the future. There are scores of tournaments that only line the pockets of the organizers and a few in the hockey federation. In today’s world, Live TV and internet is mandatory to raise the stock of the concerned sport. Let these tournaments organize hockey for the U21, U19, U17 and U15. That way they will give something back to the sport and still remain a tournament.

The federation needs to work out a schedule for the Indian schools with a six-a-side league that is played for six months. It starts off with the zones and four winners from each of the four zones; 16 teams then play the finals. Six-a-side ensures that basic skills like trapping and passing in tight spaces become second nature. Germany’s skills are a result of indoor hockey not hours and hours of astro-turf hockey.

Extreme reactions would harm the national team rather than building it up. It’s not the first time that we have finished last in a tournament. We were 12th in the 1986 World Cup in Willesden. Pakistan was 11th. But in the very next edition, in four years time, Pakistan reached the final in Lahore. We need a target like that for Rio and launch an immediate talent search among juniors for players who have the intelligence and talent to mature in Rio. But first the federation needs to sit with each player and understand what went wrong in London. Post mortems are important as they tell us how the victim was killed and who was the murderer.

It is but natural that it will take some time for trust to come back into the sport. But it needs to be built from the school level. The profile of the sport has to be corrected. It is not a national sport; it’s simply a sport at which we have to win. Most of us get emotional – ‘God, we finished last!!’ ‘Hockey is over!!’ ‘The sport is dead!!’ Sport doesn’t die. It just withers off. A few seasons of a good monsoon and the tree would stand again. It would be good to start the first senior indoor hockey league to be played on a six-a-side format.

Instead of pandering to egos and having state associations that don’t understand hockey on or off the field, clean the stables and bring in younger people. Target 2020 where India finally maintains a position in the top three for an entire year. That would mean, the lessons taught to us in 2012 have been learnt.


4 comment(s) so far...

Re: Hockey's not a puzzle, it needs a few reforms

We need to get schools to play 6 A side. That way we don't need an astro-turf but can play indoors or on cement. It will also get hockey back into schools. It is fast and kids would like it. Great idea!!!

By Aman Sirohi on   Saturday, August 18, 2012

Re: Hockey's not a puzzle, it needs a few reforms

I share with you the sadness at the fall of Indian hockey in recent years.

If we look at the statistics though, the fall is not recent. India has not beaten Holland, Germany or Australia in a major tournament (world cup or Olympics) in the past 30 years.

I read recently that the Punjab govt is going to take steps to revive hockey, they are going to focus on speed, stamina and ball skill in youngsters. I think this is an exercise in futility. Here are my reasons-
1. Since there is not a clear cut focus it will allow players to get into the system who won't have a great future at the international level. Suppose there is a player with good ball skills or good stamina. Should he be selected even if he not speedy. I say no, a player with good fitness or good ball skills will do well at the domestic level where he does not have to overcome great odds of strength, stamina and speed. At the international level though, such players will be overwhelmed.

2. It will confuse the situation. It is much harder to determine the fitness or ball skills of a player than it is to see how fast he runs. A simple speed test will weed out most of those players who don't stand a chance at the international level.

3. It is reasonable to expect a speedy player to develop the necessary ball skills over time or better fitness with better diet but how does a somewhat slow ball player develop speed, that is not something that can learned or attained though nutrition.

As a long term follower of hockey, speed is the only way I see to beat the Europeans. I see no other way, they are just too big, too strong and too fit.

By jasji singh on   Sunday, August 26, 2012

Re: Hockey's not a puzzle, it needs a few reforms


I think you have made a great point here. For example, the Olympic final between Germany and Holland has great skills, pace and speed. Holland had a decent attack with good penetration but the Germans overall fitness and mental toughness took the gold.
I have my own misgivings about what Punjab can do. It had the potential to create it's own Punjab Hockey League but made stadiums which stand like monuments. India needs a schools hockey league and that could be Punjab's contribution. But former players like Pargat Singh want a political career. Not a role in creating a sub-junior league.
We can only hope. So let's hope. Thank you for the excellent analysis.


By Sundeep Misra on   Thursday, August 23, 2012

Re: Hockey's not a puzzle, it needs a few reforms

Hello Sundeep,
I agree with you that we need far reaching reforms to improve hockey in India. The need of the hour is an unified body running hockey, not the 2 federations duking it out. Next we need strong associations at the state levels who will run hockey at the grassroots level.

This is a tall order and I personally have very little faith in our hockey administrators. Their history speaks for itself.

Why not ask the business houses to open hockey academies ? the Tatas have a football academy at Jamshedpur and it has produced a stream of promising players. I am sure they would be delighted to open another academy for hockey.

The Ambanis, Mittals and other families could be approached with similar requests. We have a much better chance of grooming players in such private academies than government run institutions which eventually turn into dens of corruption and petty babudoms.

The HI or IHF, whoever runs hockey at the center, can formulate policies, run coaching camps for coaches, hire topclass international coaches etc, but it has to depend on the state associations to promote hockey at the grassroots. Will they deliver ? or can they deliver ? the answer is " probably not ".

The idea of state associations arranging for six a side, under 16 and under 19 leagues and tournaments look good on paper but will not happen. It is a mirage. The vast majority of office bearers know little of hockey and are in it for freebies and power trips.

The need of the hour is short term and long term planning by a group of dedicated and visionary hockey lovers.

I feel that you Sundeep should start approaching all big business houses with requests for hockey funding. Someone has to start the ball rolling, why not you ? Your pen could turn out to be mightier than the HI / IHF.

By Nikhilesh Roy on   Sunday, August 26, 2012

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