Monday, March 10, 2008

Indian Horror Confederation
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Broadly Speaking

Chandigarh’s resident comic Jaspal Bhatti has offered help — Cric-hockey — to revive the game
Chandigarh’s resident comic Jaspal Bhatti has offered help — Cric-hockey — to revive the game. — Tribune photo by Vicky Gharu

Chandigarh, March 10
The Santiago shock looked inevitable. India’s unceremonious exit from Olympic hockey, in which it had made its triumphant debut 80 years ago, may have disappointed the country’s hockey fraternity yet everyone knew it was coming.

Perturbed over the developments in Indian hockey, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the parent body controlling the sport the world over, made a desperate intervention by sending its development committee members to diagnose the ailments inflicting the game here.

In fact, the International Olympic Committee had also been insisting that all help should be extended to India by the FIH to ensure its presence in the hockey event of the summer Olympics as this “stick and ball game has become synonymous with the biggest democracy of the world.”

Supported by the IOC, the FIH convened its executive board meeting in New Delhi some months ago to send a message that they cared for India.

The FIH committee suggested remedies, including bringing the 2010 World Cup to India, besides bringing one of the top coaches, Dr Richard Charlesworth of Australia, to initiate the recovery or revival mode. Both the FIH and the Sports Authority of India agreed to pool their resources for facilitating Charlesworth’s assignment. Only a few months back, he made Chandigarh his home and drew plans for the future. Visibly upset over FIH overtures and constant criticism in the media, the Indian Hockey Federation did not take these initiatives well. Decline continued.

In fact, the Santiago debacle is the culmination of the neglect of our once national sport had been getting both from the government as well as the administrators of hockey for a long time. To be honest, India would have been out of Olympic hockey in 1992 but for Malaysia that saved them from blushes then. In Auckland, in the first-ever Olympic qualifier India played, it would have tripped there.

Had Malaysia not beaten Belgium 5-3 in its last league encounter in the Auckland Olympic qualifier in 1991, India would have missed the bus to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

India, eight time Olympic champions, however, failed to draw a lesson from the Auckland tournament. In fact warning bells started ringing for this once super power in hockey as early as the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games when it failed to make the semi-final round for the first time in the history of Olympic hockey.

It touched its nadir in the 1986 World Cup in London where the 1975 edition champion Indian team took the wooden spoon. India could never recover.

Without learning a lesson from a series of debacles that rocked Indian hockey in the 80s and 90s, the federation managing the affairs of the game in the country continued to function in an arbitrary manner dismissing all criticism heaped at it as “biased and baseless”.

Arrogance coupled with indifference accelerated the downward decline and in the last Doha Asian Games, India suffered yet another reverse when it failed for the first time since 1952 to make the semi-final round.

It is cricket that has been drawing attention from every possible source. Not many politicians or bureaucrats would even accept an invite to watch a game of hockey. Rather they would make a beeline to get complimentary passes for watching a cricket game. This neglect and indifference has done hockey in.

Where do we go from here is a million-rupee question that may be agitating the minds of ardent fans of this game?

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