INDIAN HOCKEY had gone blind. Like a once-beautiful woman choosing to be oblivious to the havoc age had wrought on her, hockey had refused to acknowledge and arrest its decline. It was a free fall into an abyss. That’s Indian hockey for you — governed by a body conducting matters in a manner that could remind you of the Middle Ages. The last year ended with India finishing last in the six-nation Champions Trophy in Chennai and thereby crashing out of the next event in Spain in July. The year also ended with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) President, Els van Breda Vriesman blasting the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) for being the worst national body among the top nations.
The IHF has not changed its style of functioning but the Indian hockey players have changed their ways in the last six months or so. First they won a bronze in Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament. India retained the Asia Cup giving South Korea a 7-2 drubbing on Sunday. The decisive manner in which the victory was scored has given the coach Joaquim Carvalho plenty of cause for optimism ahead of next year’s Olympic qualifiers. The win has brought the smiles back to many hockey fans and staunch supporters of the game. The number of people that turned out to watch the finals was also encouraging. The face of Indian Hockey will certainly change with a few more victories like this. The Indian Hockey team looked like a changed unit as well. The fitness level, the energy, the team spirit and the aggression was all there. Carvalho also hailed his players’ fitness and teamwork after the former world power rattled up 57 goals and conceded just five over seven games, beating South Korea twice and edging out surprise Asiad silver medalists China on the way to glory. It is difficult to single out any Indian player for appreciation as each one of them contributed, playing their roles to perfection in India’s win. They were rightly given a standing ovation by the spectators at the overflowing stadium.
The sports ministry, a few months back, withdrew hockey from the list of priority sports. The decision was not a welcome move for our national sport. Hockey has been the most successful sport in India. It is the only sport which has got gold medals for India at the Olympics. Now after a few good performances, the IOA President wants hockey to be back in the priority list. The President, Prime Minister, MPs, etc have congratulated the team on its splendid performance.
The reactions all over the world to the win have confirmed one thing – if India starts winning again in leading tournaments, it will help hockey’s revival in In-dia. Hockey is India’s national game with a very rich legacy. It was going through a lean phase, but from all indications it is on a comeback trail. The revival of hockey, or any sport, can happen only if more people play the game at the grass roots level build the infrastructure to make that possible. Let us have more grounds for our children. Let schools inculcate a sporting culture in students. We will then have better players and better teams.