Thursday, October 11, 2012

From the Sports Desk: The Trials and Tribulations of Hockey in India

Recently there was a story about the Mizoram Womens' Hockey team getting trounced 20-0  in a hockey tournament and everyone was up in arms about how it was a shameful thing and that we should be doing something to fix this problem. The same "lets do something about it" philosophy is also applied to the game of hockey on a national basis but nothing ever works out.  The Indian team does something decent like beating Pakistan and our star Indian players come crying and say "boo hoo hoo, dat cricketer gets paid millions of dollars and we get paid only in dal and chappati and we play wearing plastic slippers and hockey is supposed to be our national game, sob!" 

Fact of the matter is to get the government to do something about it there must also be a public response to what they are doing. Sports like hockey, cricket or football are stadium oriented games; multitudes of people need to appreciate and admire what you are doing!  

Now this is where hockey falls short of cricket - hockey is rather boring to the general public (I'm sorry but it is true).  It is boring to play and boring to watch ; I've watched a few live games of club level hockey and it was mildly interesting. I also got a chance to play hockey on a regular basis during my school days and I found to be a game lacking in artistic merit. I'm a self professed sports fan but unless its an Olympic or World Cup final or an India Pakistan hockey game there are not many games of hockey which will have me frothing at the mouth. There might be a few dribbles and well taken shots but nothing that will put it on par with Tendulkaresque cricketing shots or Thierry Henry-esque football goals. 

Here again is a perfect example of the failure of hockey to match up with other top top sports disciplines - Big Names!  I used to actually follow a decent amount of hockey in my school days and I remember some of the names of great Indian hockey players like Dhanraj Pillai, Pargat Singh and that other Sikh guy who could play hockey. Cricket and Football have produced household names who are superstars in their own right. However this is more of a vicious cycle kind of thing - the more popular the game the more popular will be the stars that play it. Hockey unfortunately will always remain a tier 2 sport because there is nothing swashbuckling or highly artistic about it that will bring in the fans.

A couple of years ago ESPN and the Indian Hockey Federation collaborated to start a new tournament called the Premier Hockey League in India where top hockey teams player a short league tournament against each other. It was a resounding flop despite the best efforts of the organizers. They did try their best - new rules, cheerleaders, live telecast on ESPN, basketball style time period of four quarters of play.. etc but sadly it didn't work out and the tournament was scrapped after one year.This year again the IHF and Nimbus Sports collaborated to start a new club based hockey tournament based on the IPL cricket league; I think it was a reasonable success but it remains to be seen if the next edition will see the light of day.

Fact of the matter is Hockey is a niche sport and this is the case not only in India but in other top hockey playing nations of the world such as Germany, Argentina, Holland etc. I'm pretty sure none of the members of the general public in these countries would be able to name any of their top hockey players.

Is there a solution? Ice Hockey is insanely popular in the US/Canada. Why is it popular? I think it has the image of being a testosterone fueled game which is also fast paced and littered with occasional fighting. Can these be applied to field hockey? Unlikely.

Bottomline is yes the government, the players, the organizers and the corporates are trying what seems to be their best to make hockey more popular but unless something drastically changes hockey will always play second fiddle to cricket or even third fiddle to football in India.

Addendum: Was saddened to read about the passing away of Mr.G Kasturi who was the editor of The Hindu newspaper. He is relevant to this topic because he also owned the Sportstar magazine which was and still is the sports bible for sports aficionados in  India. It was on the pages of The Sportstar magazine that I used to read about the exploits of our Indian hockey team in foreign countries.

1 comment:

Calliopia said...

Watching hockey makes my back ache. Truth.