A Post on Indian Hockey

Indian hockey is dead. So say the press, ex-players and the outraged populace. The reason: India has failed, for the first time in 80 years, to qualify for the Olympics –an event where it has won 8 gold medals before.

After all the chest-flailing and the universal condemnation of the incompetence and arrogance of the IHF has run its course, it’s time for some introspection and some perspective.

Here’s the deal.

Not qualifying for the Olympics in itself is hardly the end of the world.

Even major soccer nations like England and France occasionally fail to make the cut for the World Cup —that does not necessarily mean that the sport is dead or in danger of becoming irrelevant in their countries. And it takes just a few strong sporting performances to wipe out such catastrophes from public memory—looking at the euphoric state of Indian cricket today, one would hardly remember that just about a year ago, we were scraping the bottom of the barrel and all of us, present company included, were wringing our hands in desperate anguish.

One thing to note. In both European soccer and Indian cricket, even when the days are the darkest, passion for the game never dries out. Sure the fans get frustrated, abusive and “thoda emotional”. However their sense of engagement with the sport never goes away, much as people would like to claim otherwise.

Hockey however is different. It is not so much India’s failure to make it to the Olympics that is alarming but the fact that, barring a few exceptions, most people have lost serious interest in the fate of Indian hockey.

Indians overall just do not care.

“Whoa whoa” you say. “Hold on. Lack of passion for hockey? Speak for yourself. No-one has lost interest in hockey, everybody is behind the national team.” However this kind of “support” for hockey is frequently in the same vein as our support for “art cinema” or “classical literature” —we know it’s good for us and we know we should and we do claim we do but ultimately it’s not something that we would wake up at 3 am in the night for.

Advertisers know this. So do administrators. And yet the charade of “the national game” and the supposed emotional connect continues.

Here’s a test. Ask the man in the street if he cares for hockey. The odds are he will say “Chak De India, of course”. Ask him to name 5 players who played in 2007 Asian Cup (which we won) and you will see him stuttering. Ask him for all the cricketers who played in the 2007 cricket World Cup (where we were eliminated first round) and he will even spell their names backwards for you.

Cricket. The big evil python that has supposedly sucked out all the resources from hockey and other sports. Any discussion about the declining standards of Indian hockey inevitably brings up the issue of cricket and India’s obsession with it to the exclusion of everything else. Ask any hockey player or administrator and cricket somehow is always the villain — all those cricket stars get all the money and the attention and we get nothing.

I personally do not see it that way. Cricket, just like hockey, started in the same state of abject penury. [Rajdeep Sardesai recounts how once when the Indian cricket team under Bedi won a Test against New Zealand in four days, the board refused to give them their daily allowance, meager as it was, for the fifth day instead admonishing them with a “Who told you to finish the game in four days?”.] Except that hockey has remained that way whereas cricket has taken off, on its own strength. Not through government fiat, not through a 49.5% quota or a 15% subsidy but by its ability to create a market for itself.

Was cricket’s ascension largely a matter of luck? Perhaps. Indian cricket took off at a time when the Indian television industry was undergoing a revolution. A period of time that coincided with a nose-dive in India’s hockey standards caused by the wide-spread use of artificial surfaces and the emergence of a more physical, faster paradigm of hockey to which India just could not adapt to. There was of course mismanagement, politics and corruption but even cricket has hardly been free from that. The only thing is that in recent years with cricket continuously being under media scrutiny, administrators have been forced to keep their misdemeanors under some amount of control whereas the powers that be in hockey have had a free run with arbitrary chops and changes, blatant politicking, heavy handedness and of course corruption.

The larger issue however is not cricket vs hockey. There is no reason why,with India’s huge sports-hungry population, it cannot be cricket and hockey, just like the NFL, the NBA and baseball co-exist in the US and everyone makes money. It’s not also not the case that there has been absolutely no investment in our national game— there is the Premier Hockey League and its support from ESPN India and a winning pot of 4 million rupees in 2008.

But has it generated even a fraction of the hype and discussion that even an unofficial tournament like the ICL Twenty20 has?

Based on the press coverage and buzz that the PHL gets , I doubt it.

Speaking for myself, I do not follow PHL. Just as I no longer follow India’s international engagements in hockey.

I once did however. Passionately. I remember our entire family getting up at the dead of night watching India play at the Olympics, feeling the same sense of connection that I felt for cricket. Mohammed Shahid was the one I always rooted for though my favorites were the Pakistani greats—Tahir Zaman and Shahbaz Ahmed. An India-Pakistan hockey match had the exact same intensity as a cricket match and I recall hard fought hockey “test matches” which were keenly followed by people. Negi’s goalkeeping or more precisely how pathetic it supposedly was, was dinner time conversation argued with the same passion that people would now discuss the merits of Ganguly being dropped.

In my high school physical education curriculum, we had to select one game among cricket, football and hockey and learn its basic skills– skills that would be examined during the Board exams.

I chose hockey.

It was somewhere in the very early 90s that I, along with my peers, first started losing interest in hockey. Though I would struggle to put an exact reason for it, I would say that it was largely due to the sinking realization that India were ages behind the standards of hockey that had been set by Australia, Germany, Netherlands and yes even Pakistan (which was by no means a “rich” country) with regards to speed, ball possession and penalty corner conversions. Even when India put in a fighting performance against a top team, it would then disappoint with an abysmal day against an Argentina or an England. Most of the time, we were fighting to be seventh or eighth. Soon that became eleventh or twelfth. Sure there were isolated victories but the downward trend was irreversible.

Somewhere down the road, I just switched off. And I was not the only one.

Coming back to India’s Olympic debacle, if there is one positive thing to it it is the fact that hockey has got at least some press coverage. Perhaps some people still do care. And looking at it in a dispassionate way, finishing seventh or eighth in the Olympics (which realistically was what was going to happen even in the best of cases) is not much better than not qualifying. If the current situation brings about a shake-up in the administration (the current administration’s handling of Rick Charlesworth as technical advisor has been criminal) with the immediate removal of the arrogant Gill (who thinks 15 years at the helm is a short time to make changes) then some good would have been served. Having replaced 150 players and 10 coaches in his first 10 years as India’s hockey supremo and in general running the IHF as his jagirdaari with no dissenting voice tolerated, it is undeniable that Gill has been a quite a disaster.

Having said that,the problem with Indian hockey is much more deep-rooted than one that can be merely solved with an administrative shake-up. I am also pessimistic about Aslam Sher Khan‘s “If the Government of India can spent about Rs 500 crore and provide the infrastructure, then in the next four years, we will be at the top once again” remedy simply because there are far more pressing demands on the nation’s purse than hockey.

The only long-term solution to India’s problems in hockey has to come from the market. In other words—us. Do we really, deep down, still care for hockey? Are a significant number of us going to tune in to a hockey game and watch it even if there is a Twenty20 IPL brouhaha on? Okay forget that. Are a significant number of us going to tune in to a hockey game even when there is nothing on in any of the channels?

If the honest answer to this is no, well then the spirit of Indian hockey may already have moved on from its body.

79 thoughts on “A Post on Indian Hockey

  1. Glad to be the first commenter. Will read the post now.

  2. Even ‘Chak De’ couldn’t lift Hockey’s market – and we are back to the Holy Trinity of Cricket, Bollywood and Politics for discussions over the dinner table.

    Anyone and his grandfather can talk about the chicken and egg problem (administrators and bad quality infrastructure vs hockey team not winning enough matches), but unless we do win matches consistently against top teams and win something like a world cup (cricket really took off only after 1983) – market play wouldn’t come in and administrators would still continue to have a field day!!

  3. How true. Being sponsored by Sahara doesn’t bring any improvement as well.

  4. Well, I don’t think even if India wins hockey world cup five times in a row, the sports interest of Indians ll be affected. People just don’t find hockey as interesting anymore. And no one can say full heartedly that same ll not happen to cricket one day.

  5. Isn’t this your first post about Indian hockey?…I guess this would help lifting hockey’s market.

  6. Well said sir.

    Blaming cricket for hockey is like saying “we failed because you succeeded”. Thats just lame.
    Again the analogy with NFL and NBA is spot on. Basically market rejected hockey because it did not perform. When cricket did nor perform, the same market asked it questions. It made cricket accountable.
    Even when market asked questions to hockey it did not respond. And soon market lost interest in hockey.

    In fact hockey has got more Government support than any other sport. It milked the government cow for more than two decades.

    Bottom line is – the market and the system will reject non-performace. Period.

  7. Nice post. I don’t care for Hockey a bit. Like you, I used to. Asiad, Olympics, ’86 world cup followed every one of them and yes, Shahid was a favourite. But somewhere down the line I lost interest and I don’t care anymore. And I certainly hate all these vultures on news channels who will be waiting for any such debacle, be it in hockey, football or olympics, to start the good old discussion “is cricket killing all other sports in India?”.

    Also, I don’t think it is just to do with Indian hockey. It is not like Hockey is doing great in terms of popularity even in Australia or Netherlands. It is a struggling sport and let it die peacefully.

    But ofcourse, if they hire the Chak De team, I might watch a game or two, for that forward (Preeti?) if nothing else 🙂

  8. I think a lot of us watched that tear-jerker of an Olympic match

  9. valid point…of all the people making so much fuss because of our hockey “debacle”…hockey wudnt have got their attention if we had qualified and done a typical 6-7th position in olympic…or even bronze-silver…perhaps this failure has brought more publicity to hockey thn success wud have got…..forget media,players,coach, government…ask urself…how many of u actually follow the game…if u dnt, u dnt deserve to cry on nt qualifying…

  10. @Kiran,

    You bring a good answer if you will to GB’s question about what are the reasons for the decline in Hockey coverage and I think it is like a catch 22 where we have to infuse resources to get results to increase support from people but to get resources we needs people to care.

    On that note, I would not be averse to somebody bankrolling this thing even if its the government but then you do not give a thief keys to the bank and ask him/her to increase security

    What say you?

  11. Honestly …. A little weight has been lifted off me. Its not just the honest confession of yours that I found uncannily matching to mine, but also the suggestions you put up there. After most fullstops, I found myself saying ‘haan-haan’, ‘egjaktly-egjaktly’ !!

    I couldn’t agree more with you ! .. A little bit of political intervention & that bc Gill is out of the scene, i say ! I too remember that (really old) asia cup final where India drubbed Pakistan 7-4 !! .. it was something like 1-3 by 50th minute (with India lagging), when Pillay, Prabhjot, Gaganajit, rasquinha, and that poor chap who had an unfortunate career-ending accident soon after ….. all rejuvenated unbelievably to win the match !! .. i was probably just 15 then .. but i could feel the heat ! ..

    Well written .. I just loved it !! Thanx a lot !

  12. Even though your post was well written, what I expected was that you would also talk about certain solutions. Or GB, you don’t see any solutions?
    And about the government loosening its purse a little, doesn’t seem that bad of an idea, given that various governments could offer loads of money, plots of land to our gangulys and dhonis inspite of their high earnings (which could ofcourse be explained by economics)….
    Otherwise we would be left playing cricket only, and I think that would be a real shame.

  13. Sid...No More The Kid March 19, 2008 — 4:42 pm

    You know what Gill said when asked to comment on India’s loss ?
    ” The team lost. I didn’t”!!!!!!!!
    Maybe Govt can actually intervene and appoint the likes of lalit Modi/ IS Bindra/ Jaggu dada who have done wonders for the succesful marketing of Indian cricket??? I dont see the challenge , these guys are not exaclty Cricketing greats but still did wonderfully on the marketing/revenue generation front. No reason why they cant do it for Hockey. I can even go one stop ahead and suggest laloo prasad yadav. His involvement alone will create enough entertainment value to attract the masses 🙂

  14. Sid...No More The Kid March 19, 2008 — 4:46 pm

    @ Tapas:
    “that poor chap who had an unfortunate career-ending accident soon after ” was Jugraj Singh, who was to be our star penalty-corner specialist 😦


    Finally .. thanks a lot ! .. i was struggling to recall that name ! .. and he was quite a stud too ! =)

  16. I don’t do not follow Hockey the way I follow Cricket. There’s just no comparision. And I might struggle to name even 3 names from the current team with full confidence. Reason being the frequent chopping and changing of players. The problem with Indian Hockey is the administration, or the lack of it. But in many ways it enjoys more popularity than Football in India.And if Football is not in danger of dying, then Hockey most certainly isn’t.

    This failure was much needed…

  17. A movie was never going to do anything anyway. Nice post, GB. It’s true. You cannot blame cricket for hockey’s downfall.

  18. The question is, how big a sport is hockey worldwide? I mean, ice hockey is loved in the US as a sort of gladiator-spectacle, but the regular stuff, does it compare to say soccer in Europe? If it’s a sidelined sport elsewhere, then I’d say it’s just too sidelined in India. And the spirit has left.

  19. Yes, Monojit Sir’s dribbling exercises were good fun, given that having a hockey stick in hand was itself a bit of a novelty, compared to holding a cricket back or kicking a football, especially in Kolkata. Unfortunately my memory does not serve me well enough to remember whether you really did choose hockey 🙂
    A common refrain regarding hockey is that it does not have a large enough following in terms of viewers and youngsters aspiring to make it big in the game. While this is true, I feel that the more important point is that, like in every other sphere of activity in India which is not professionally (read private sector) controlled, there is a complete lack of understanding about how to plan and execute in order to achieve a goal. In the modern world where developed nations go about any activity that they take up with utmost professionalism, you cannot compete with only talent. On the other hand, put even the talent on display in Indian hockey today in European or Australian hands and you will have a winning team.

  20. Hi GB:

    For any sport to survive, the important factor is how much masses can undertand it and the flexibiltiy of the game to be played at any level. For example, u can play cricket on any gully (road), even in ur apartment hall. And the investment is also very low, u just need a bat and ball and 22 members can play. But take hockey, every player needs a bat, it cannot be played on a gully, it needs a large ground, i.e., affordabilty by middle class is low when compared to cricket. At gully level, u can contribute certain amount of money to ur team and buy a good bat, but in hockey every player needs to buy a bat. U cannot enjoy a game that u can’t play. Identification becomes very difficult. I think that is the main reason for decline of hockey.

  21. One wonders if Hockey like Cricket in its formative years were controlled by a corporate would still be like this? I am quite inclined to say no.

  22. I don’t think most of the people commenting here watched hockey in the recent past. I watched the semi-final in Chennai recently during the Asia Cup. The game was full of pace & atmosphere was electrifying. I went again for the finals, but the stadium was full and they turned away around 2000 people. I went home & watched it on DD.

    Any day, I would prefer watching a hockey game, than a one-day cricket match. Maybe it’s just me. But, for the naysayers, who wish it a peaceful death, I would like to say “Sadly, not in your lifetime”.

    Cricket was a marketing success, just like Valentine’s Day. The one minute time between overs was a marketer’s god end. They pounced on it and promoted it like crazy. We fell for it and caught the cricket fever. The funny thing is most of us don’t even realize it! Had it not for the one minute intervals between overs, I wonder where would cricket be today. And with so much resources, we were able to build a just an above average team in cricket (what do you call a team that did not make past the first stage in the world cup)

    I am not anti-cricket. I welcome the 20-20 format, which cuts to the chase (read: slog overs); makes the game interesting and lasts just 3 hours ; after which I can carry on with my work, not waste 1 day/5 days religiously monitoring the scorecard.

    Don’t blame hockey for non-performance. Everybody needs motivation to play other than the pleasure of playing it. These guys choose hockey not just for the money, but mostly for the pleasure of playing it.

    Your logic is flawed. Football is much cheaper but that isn’t popular here. In fact in the poorest countries, football is the most popular sport.

  23. “Negi’s goalkeeping or more precisely how pathetic it supposedly was, was dinner time conversation argued with the same passion that people would now discuss the merits of Ganguly being dropped.”

    Also, people discuss exclusion of talented players from marginalized states. For example Jhunjhunawala and Ranadeb Bose. Whsoe exclusion from national team reflect the frustration of many Ranji cricketers who know that their regional affiliation is a big impediment in their selection.

  24. Excellent analysis. I think a lot of people you us might still be inetersted in hockey, but what it needs is an injection of heavy dose of mass hysteria. Somehow we need to kickstart that….

  25. One reason for cricket to become popular is that occasionally Indian team does win !
    In hockey we are pathetic because competition is high, so many nations playing (instead of 9 in cricket).
    Let us select not so popular-less crowded sport and built a niche.

  26. @arun, good for you and hockey if the game is so robust. That is not my impression, but doesn’t matter. But I don’t agree with the “something needs to be done to save the game” argument that talking heads on news channels keep making. So my point was, if the game is dying, let it die.

    As for cricket being a product of marketing, one minute ad break, etc. I disagree. Even before the advent of tv advertising, cricket was definitely ahead of hockey in popularity. Gavaskar, Viswanath, the spin quartet were all much more popular than Zafar Iqbal’s and Shahid’s. Forget the players, even cricket commentators, journalists and umpires were household names. We used to play cricket regularly on the streets as kids, but you could hardly find a handful of kids playing hockey in the grounds even in those days. Partly because, as Kishor pointed out, cricket is easier to play than hockey. Also, another reason cricket retained its popularity in those pre-tv days is because it could be enjoyed on radio too. You could follow every nuance of the game by just listening to it on radio and that’s how an entire generation came to love the game. But that is not true of hockey. Try and listen to it on radio and all you can hear is a jumble of names. “kalimullah, kalimullah, shahbaz, shahbaz, gooal!”. Tough to get people hooked on to the game with that kind of stuff.

  27. This is efficient markets at its best. No takers – no money – no game.

    But then its not easy to dismiss it that way especially when you have been fed rich stories of India’s hockey triumphs in the past. Strangely, an Indian rooting for ManU, Arsenal or Chelsea sounds more passionate despite no ‘national honour’ at stake.

    I think it all comes down to marketing which again brings us to the chicken and egg story. Marketing/money after a win or a few wins after marketing/money.

    Deadlock i’d say!

  28. Great post ……. At the risk of getting killed, I am asking this question …….. Why dont we just change our National Sport to Cricket and be happy?? I mean if Cricket is the National Sport and it is getting the maximum attention and the most money, everything is hunky dory right????

  29. With lack of media support, hockey has lost popularity.
    So – how one can expect TALENT to come from.
    CRICKET has eaten up all sports.
    Its better if we stop participation in all ASIAN GAMES, OLYMPICS events and play ONLY CRICKET amongst ourself in IPL/ICL & BE HAPPY.

  30. when we were kids someone presented me and my brother ‘chakravarti’ brand hockey sticks. quite disgusting the way in which we flaunted those things at school and the colony playground. point is kids were interested in hockey, knew the names of the players etc and played it as a pastime. today hockey has dropped from the middle class radar, except for the kelenkaris.
    as for kishor’s post let me add
    – gully cricket does not require much fitness or skill, witness the portly types of all ages (ladies in sarees too) playing on sundays. you have to be fit to play hockey, sprinting about and all that. (cricket is always a picnic favorite, cant imagine carrying hockey sticks to a picnic!!)
    – you can play cricket in street clothes and shoes. imagine the roly poly gully cricket types in shorts and singlets….

  31. @GB

    I completely agree with your views! I just dont understand people blaming Cricket for the decline in Hockey! Like many here, I used to follow hockey once back in time, but then the interest gradually declined, I really dont know why! Perhaps Cricket in itself is a more entertaining game as compared to hockey, maybe its as simple as that! Cricket makes money purely because it interests a wide audience, on it own strenght! While hockey doesnt!

    Kishor, I ahve atke on this. hockey is played at gully level. I was brought up in Coorg in Southern Karnataka, known for its Hockey culture, second only perhaps to Punjab in number of players representing India from this tiny district. We played hockey on ‘coffee drying fields’ with self-made, improvised wooden sticks b’coz our parents just wouldnt buy us proper hockey sticks! As compared to Criket where you require pads, gloves etc, Hockey doesnt require as much equipment. The game was played by all classes, with as much passion by the lower middles class.

  32. Shourideb Bhattacharyya March 20, 2008 — 7:18 am

    Actually hockey is pretty much better off than some of the other sports which are worse off..basketball, volleyball, swimming, athletics…the list is endless..
    truth is for our population we have ABSOLUTELY ZILCH INFRASTRUCTURE for anything INCLUDING CRICKET..
    Methinks the one of the reasons cricket is so popular is cos it needs NO INFRASTRUCTURE TO BE PROVIDED BY THE GOVT….all u need is a ground..get your own stumps, bat, ball etc. and start playing..even soccer needs a couple of goalposts…how many hockey grounds do u know of in your city..???…

  33. Well all this hype is unjustified. India, barely has finished in top 6 in olympic/world cups,in last almost 30 years, save for the ‘half olympic’ of 1980. We have finished 12th as well. Britain, has consistently outperformed us in international hockey over recent decades, and was easily the ‘expected’ team to qualify. The media, for want of a topic, can make a mountain of mole, be it a boy fallen in a pit, or indian hockey. if only they give this kind of publicity to hockey regularly, things would be better. Besides,I dont buy the money/popularity argument eaither.The fact is, we were bound to get uncompetitive in hockey, as it got more fast and physical.Sublime popularity too, cant get india, a soccer world cup. A post in this regard can be read here

  34. 1. India does not follow sports so much as sporting heroes. We have always been more of individual-worshippers than team-supporters. Statistics of how many matches a player has won the country are not half as important as how many centuries he has hit etc.
    I remember watching every featured rugby match of the all-blacks during the Jonah Lomu era, and was I really watching rugby? Was I really very interested in the sport? No, I was watching my favourite player perform, a regular indian trait.
    2. India won the Olympics in hockey in 1980, and the world cup cricket in 1983. When the TV phenomenon actually took off, Indian hockey was, if anything, at as good (or bad) a position as Indian cricket.
    3. But, cricket is extremely advertiser-friendly. How many other sports will you find where you get a 45 second commercial break every 5 minutes? In hockey (a quicker game, and with a lot of goals generally) on the other hand, ad spots are harder to locate. Tennis is easier to market than hockey too.
    4. Regular visibility of a player (in ads etc.) is extremely important for the player to get iconic status. As much as Kapil made Palmolive what it is, ‘Palmolive da jawab nahin’ made Kapil what he was. Ditto Sunil Dinesh Gavaskar.
    5. This is a dubious point, but I think hockey players are, on the whole, less marketable than cricketers. This is over and beyond the point that marketers tend to like cricketers more (see point 3). ESPN is not a marketer of goods like any vanilla FMCG.
    6. The advertisers chose cricketers to market their products. Therefore, the cricketers continued to be shown in ads. And became icons. And hockey players didn’t.
    7. Therefore, we do not have icons in hockey. We have icons in cricket.
    8. Therefore, we follow cricket. Therefore, when our heroes fall (as they did in the world cup in west indies), the nation collectively mourns. And therefore, when india does not qualify for the olympics, there is no real collective mourning (be honest, apart from a few newsreels, how many times has the topic been raised in general conversations with friends? There is no real collective mourning).
    9. And therefore, there is, by and large, little interest in hockey left in the country.

  35. GB, Nice post as usual. However, I expected you to say aloud the obvious. Indian hockey is on the death bed because Gill has shut out all Muslim players from Indian team. To qualify in Indian hockey team you essentially have to be a non-muslim – while the backbone of Indian hockey has been the muslim. No, even the talented players of muslim community are NOT CONSIDERED to represent India. They drop out at initial stages, and mostly do not even start. The Gufran-E-Azam/Aslam Sher Khan’s rubble rousing apart, can you recall any muslim name in Indian hockey from the time of, your/mine moving away from hockey?

  36. Cricket represents upward mobility, you know get famous, earn tons of money. wear fashionable clothes, drive expensive cars, start to speak in ENGLISH…in other words the compleat ‘Indian Dream’ cutting across all classes and regions.
    Contrast that with hockey….. the choice is clear

  37. Spot on, GB
    Your last two paras said it all

    As I remember,in the 70’s & 80’s Indian cricket was fairly slow – dull draws, batting strike rate of less than 30 in test matches & fast paced hockey was interesting for many of us,but now the game is a big yawn , atleast for me

    Hard to understand the brouhua about India’s non-qualification for Olympics . Odd that it is, compare that with England not qualifying for Euro 2008 & how the nation has since moved on

  38. Well I can name most of the hockey players playing for the national team, and am quite an avid follower of the Indian hockey team, as well as PHL.

    I do believe that this Indian team is full of very talented players, so non qualifications for the olympics is too early to call for burial of Indian hockey. Afterall hockey is probably the second most followed sport as far as the national team is concerned. Though it must be said that the amount of following is much higher in northern India than the rest of the country unfortunately.

    Having said that it must be said that this team is tactically poor and somewhat spineless/overawed in crunch situations. Not a bad time to see what Ray Charlesworth can do to help, afterall it cannot get much worse than what it is already. However cannot see it happening as long as Gill is at the helm.

  39. Also I find it hard to believe that we follow cricket only because we are competitive in it. Case in point Kabbadi and chess where we have reasonable competitiveness in international levels.
    Cricket is a spectator sport hence the popularity. Ditto with football. If we were any good it might just have been more popular than cricket in india. Hockey is a spectator sport as well and if we manage to do well internationally as we have done in cricket, I am sure die hard fans will appear.

  40. An article that actually looks beyond the notion that just more funding will save Indian hockey. A very good read.

  41. @ Kishor
    From your logic, football (or soccer as termed by the bloody Americans) should be more popular than cricket as it requires only one ball and not a single bat.

  42. in my state, hockey has double the quota of job reservations that cricket has. so u cant really say government doesent care.maybe if we started a match fixing scandal or two or if we got mandira bedi to host the next hockey world cup in her noodle straps, we could generate some interest.

  43. Many people are saying that football equipment is cheaper than cricket equipment. But you people are forgetting one thing that is space problem. Football needs a big ground whereas 22 years or even 18 yards are enough for cricket. I am not just talking about affordabilty but also about the space required to play, identification, and understanding of technical skills.

  44. A small correction in my above comment, it is 22 yards, not 22 years.

  45. Where are the stars?? We need a SUPERSTAR in hockey who can capture people’s imagination; who can win matches for the country.

    We need at least one extra-ordinary, exceptional player.
    We need a Sachin Tendulkar of Hockey. Or even a Sehwag will do.

  46. @Kishor
    In our hometown, we had gully soccer as well. We used to break our neighbors’ windows very often. So you see, space is actually not a problem. The main problem is skills and physical fitness, where we lag far behind Europeans and Australians, in both hockey and soccer. However, cricket doesn’t require much fitness than these two games (burning example, Sourav Ganguly, with his pedestrian running-between-the-wickets scored 11000 runs in ODIs and 6000 in tests)

  47. @Anirban: “Glad to be the first commenter. Will read the post now.”
    Bongda, are you giving out prizes?

  48. Anirban, now all the Sourav fans will hunt you down and……

  49. Reports of hockey’s deaths are probably exaggerated. Marketing hockey in India is challenging, but not impossible. A few rule changes like introduction of two timeouts for each team in each half could be useful. We also need to start marketing to hockey’s strengths —

    a) Team Game — Cricket is an individualistic sport disguised as a team game. Hockey, like football, is a true team game. 11 Indian men together fighting 11 English/German/Australian/Pakistan on a level playing astro field have untapped marketing potential. Leverage war analogies, history or cricket rivalries — whatever works.

    b) Format – Short, fast, unpredictable, high-scoring. There must be a reason why at one point I used to love watching hockey almost as much as football.

    c) Olympic legacy – China is going to showcase their sporting strength and we might return home medalless. This will be a disgrace for a country a section of which aspires to be a superpower. Exploit that national frustration.

    d) IPL might be the final cricket overkill. It does not just risk saturation, it might also weaken one crucial ingredient of cricket’s popularity in India — nationalist pride and frenzy. If Ponting, Shoaib and Dada are playing for the same team for half of the year on Indian grounds, will the national rivalries remain as potent as they are now? Hockey might benefit from that.

  50. “If the honest answer to this is no, well then the spirit of Indian hockey may already have moved on from its body.”

    The honest answer is No.

    How many Indians will stay up nights watching World Cup Hockey, versus even English / Spanish League football? Not even counting the Euro Cup or the World Cup, but I already have.

    I think the time has come for Indian football to take up the spot on offer – and for cheap – by Indian Hockey as its second-placed National Sport. At least football gets mad crowds in some states – Bengal, Kerala, Goa. Hockey doesn’t garner crowds in its supposed bastion, Punjab.

    Football is also easier for kids to pick up… it is ripe for launching. And the newspapers sense it – they give it more coverage these days than they do to the ICL.

    Stone: “Where are the stars?? We need a SUPERSTAR in hockey who can capture people’s imagination; who can win matches for the country.”

    You never saw Dhanraj Pillay in action, did you? Alone, he was dangerous. Given support, he was terrifying. But of course he was outspoken and had to be crushed underfoot…

  51. India has never been a nation that has encouraged any sport. Even cricket is popular only because it brings in the moolah. Nobody is encouraged to take part in sports or extracurricular activities…most teachers/parents expect only “academic excellence” which generally consists of mere rote learning.

    The point is, there is no sporting culture in our country. Passion in a sport can only be generated if people play sports, cheer on the field, enjoy the thrill of the competeition like we (at least I) did in interhouse and interschool tournaments.

    Most of us however, are armchair “sports appreciaters”. Most people who watch football have probably never played even a gulli match with friends. English Premier League Football is popular because: (a) It seems to be a fashionable topic to discuss (b) The print media is positively overflowing with the personal as well as professional lives of footballers.

    As we are fickle about our favorite games, better media coverage will definitely improve the standards of Indian sports. After all the only non-cricketing Indain action that one can watch is on DD sports which has very poor presentation. They have a horrible habit of abandoning one match and abruptly starting another.

  52. All I want to say is that

    ‘Thank God, we at least have cricket’ 🙂

  53. @Dipanjan
    If Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and Beckham playing in the same team could not diminish the national rivalries in soccer, why are you so paranoid about IPL!!!

  54. @@Aditya :: Buddy, I belong to the days of Mohd. Shahid, Thoeiba Singh, RP Singh, Mervyn Fernandes, Soumaya, Carvalho, MP Singh, Vineet Kumar etc etc….So please don’t ask me about Dhanraj Pillay… 🙂

    Btw, agreed he was a good player.

  55. Good post, but keep in mind that the NHL in the US is facing the same problem in terms of ratings and even a general interest in it. Even with the strike that happened a few years ago, people’s reaction to the game is apathetic at best and it is struggling to stay relevant in the face of the NFL, NBA etc.

    I guess there’s something about hockey that doesn’t draw the viewer in. Hockey’s time might come back, but don’t bank on it.

  56. good post….what ultimately dictates all this is the money and fame!!!

  57. “Buddy, I belong to the days of Mohd. Shahid, Thoeiba Singh, RP Singh, Mervyn Fernandes, Soumaya, Carvalho, MP Singh, Vineet Kumar etc”

    OLDIE! 😛

    Reshma: “India has never been a nation that has encouraged any sport. Even cricket is popular only because it brings in the moolah.”

    Pardon me, but that is rubbish. We have been a cricket-crazy nation since well before (as GB points out) the moolah started coming in. 1971 would be my best guess, because we learnt we could beat the biggies in their own backyards. We haven’t done that with Hockey, and till we do that it football things will not change.

    “Nobody is encouraged to take part in sports or extracurricular activities…most teachers/parents expect only “academic excellence” which generally consists of mere rote learning.”

    Agreed. But things are changing – and this is BECAUSE there is more moolah in sport. Thanks to Sania and Saina and Anand, if you tell people you want to make a career in sports they are les likely to laugh at you than they did ten years ago.

    “The point is, there is no sporting culture in our country. Passion in a sport can only be generated if people play sports, cheer on the field, enjoy the thrill of the competeition like we (at least I) did in interhouse and interschool tournaments.”

    This goes against your first statement that cricket is followed only because it has money in it – you need to see Shivaji Park, Azad maidan and Cross maidan on mornings to know what I mean. And if your statement on interschool and interhouse matches was true, football and athletics would be on par – or even greater – than cricket. That thrill, that shouting still exists. Pay a visit to your local interschool event some day.

    “After all the only non-cricketing Indain action that one can watch is on DD sports”

    You haven’t watched Neo Plus, Zee Sports or Ten Sports, I see.

    (Or ESPN STAR and their carrom championship 😀 )

  58. Good post….just reminds us that the dead must be buried after all.

    But whatever hair-splitting one engages in, it ultimately boils down to CRICKET v/s HOCKEY (& other fallen sports). No amount of intellectual analysis can deny this fact. The comments following the blog stand testimony to this

  59. A very personal perspective on hockey and may I say a very lucid one too. I think we, as Indians, tend to be hypocritical in our approach towards hockey. We choose to be ignorant and often misinformed about hockey, while at the same time castigating the hockey team for its failures.

    We have little moral ground to indulge in such blatant hypocrisy and must at least be a little more informed before we become indignant.

    I also feel that while cricket’s progress has been good, it has taken away a lot of pride associated with hockey, by providing us Indians an alternative domain in which to shine. In that sense, cricket has robbed hockey of a level playing field (even though cricket has done it deservingly)

    This is a debate which is going to be doing the airwaves for the next couple of years. And unless and until, we give hockey a little more space and curb the absolute blitzkrieg of cricket, hockey might always be the neglected child of Indian sports.

  60. Is hockey a primary sport and game of passion in Australia, Netherland and Germany?
    Or for that matter even South Korea or England.
    Do they have a huge pool of talent to pick from?
    Certainly their hockey playing population is probably 1/50th the size of that of India.

    What are people’s thoughts on that?

  61. @Rishi, please see my previous comment. That is my answer to your question.

  62. I have an overtly simple view on why Hockey is lagging or rather why I stopped playing it. I loved cricket as I could play it with friends almost anywhere. Back in India I moved around a lot as my father was in a transferable job but could always find places to play cricket. Well in later days we had to switch to tennis balls, after breaking enough window planes….
    But with hockey you really need a descent field. Then everyone needs a hockey stick. In cricket you just need a bat (or two) and a ball amongst multiple players. I did not have the luxury of pads and gloves.
    In fact if one had a bat and a ball you could make friends easily , not the same deal with hockey stick….

  63. Administration and politics has created such a mess of hockey now that its hopless now. For those who truely like the game, the best thing would be to stop supporting it or playing it so that it falls down the abbys and gets lost of indian psyche. That would be the time to reviev hockey back and as a private enterprise ment to make money and not as a national sport.

  64. Aditya:

    “And if your statement on interschool and interhouse matches was true, football and athletics would be on par – or even greater – than cricket. That thrill, that shouting still exists. Pay a visit to your local interschool event some day.”

    That is the whole point athletics as well as football are immensely loved in our country but only at the Interschool level. There is no growth, whereas people love cricket both at the interschool level as well as the international level. I think this has to do with the level of participation of the spectators and viewership. Everyone can cheer for the cricket team because every channel covers cricket whereas other sports are not covered at all. There can be no interest in a sport unless there is awareness which can be brought about only by media coverage. There is no incentive for growth of other sports and sportspersons.

    Yes, thankfully things are changing thanks to Sania et al., and I hope
    that things get better. As for coverage by channels other than DD, even that is poor…The carrom championship was a step in the right direction though.

    As for cricket craze…its turning more into a mania 😛 (Although it is good for cricket)

  65. Shelf life for Hockey has reduced , don’t think that it will pull in crowds or big bucks even if India wins a World Cup or an Olympic Gold

  66. You have nicely put the other side of the coin as far as Indian Hockey is concerned. I am glad I read it which is quite a welcome change from all the news about how ridiculous it is that India did not qualify for the Olympics. Some time back Australians started a new form of test cricket where one scores at a run rate of 4 per day and finishes off the game in 4 days. Ganguly & co. realzed that and started playing similarly , where the strategy came in full effect with the inclusion of Sehwag as a test opener. In a year or so we started playing test cricket like the Aussies, and a departing Gilchrist , who has seen it all , finally said “Indians can match our winning ways”[source].
    Now that 20-20 cricket is a official form of sport where all the teams are going to fight for national glory, Indian board has taken very aggressive steps to make it our forte, in the form of IPL and specialized team set-up for 20-20 matches.From now on , with a pool of young players experienced in playing in IPL with world class players, we Indians will be the trend setters in this form of cricket.
    What is notable in the above events is the aggression to change and keep up with the new challenges shown by both individuals as well as the organization , which has played a major role in forming brand Cricket in India. And this is exactly where hockey has failed. Here, we are still sulking about the astro-turfs and non-performers and the stalinesque dictator who rules the national sport !! I think in hockey, we are just trying to hide from our mistakes and run away from challenges and that is all about Indian hockey that needs a change.

  67. An important factor that contributes to the popularity of cricket which is ignored often is the ease of access to the game. Galli cricket is played in every city/town/village in India. We grew up on it. You just need a ball, a crude bat and a tree to serve as the wicket. The same cannot be said about hockey. I know it might sound like a silly excuse but I think its a valid factor.

  68. @Reshma- You are talking rubbish. Why blame the media for not covering hockey. If you are so concerned the you create your own channel and show ad free hockey there.

    “India has never been a nation that has encouraged any sport.”

    Yes that is a true statement. In fact the education of the world’s most popular sport: sex has been long neglected in Indian high schools.

    “Nobody is encouraged to take part in sports or extracurricular activities…most teachers/parents expect only “academic excellence” which generally consists of mere rote learning.”

    The IPL will change that. People who get into IPL will now be bigger heroes than people who get into IIT. Indian way of investing is a bit like the german one- save and don’t speculate. Hence the impetus by parents to go for sure returns- education. As Indian moves away slowly from being a poor 3rd world country, there will be plenty of time for people afforded by a leisurely lifestyle to pursue many activities like rock climbing and hiking while drinking gatorade. As we slowly become a more obese nation and the no of gyms increase, contact sports like boxing and maybe rugby will naturally become more popular. As more and more white collar jobs increase, executives will go for yoga and gay executives for naked yoga to bust stress. As the indian society evolves, divorces will increase. With the growing rich poor disparity, the rich are going to get paranoid about their children getting into trouble and send them to martial arts schools. Fat women who would not have hitherto even considered how ugly their butts look, being ensconced in the safety of marriage would now hit the gym to look less like whales and more like human, in order to attract potential mates. And many old men will turn to blackjack and poker and maybe become world champs. But till that happens, you will have to wait dear. You may say that brilliant athletes come out of Kenya, but you have to take into account that there is no more gene and body suited for sport as is the African one.

    Interest or disinterest in a particular sport, can be nurtured but not inculcated in school. And society matters. So say if a boy likes to play umm..squash, he needs a certain freedom of mind to do so rather than being badgered by people around him to go for coaching, or that he has to join IMS for CAT or that he will be a loser in life if he doesn’t get into the top medical school etc. But such flexibility is generally the privy of the privileged. Not that many jobs exist in pizza shops or mcdonalds in india for high school grads to earn. The underprivileged will always consider carefully and once he chooses sport, he gives it all as its his bread winning career choice. The rich kid will always have his dad’s business to fall back upon.

    “The point is, there is no sporting culture in our country. Passion in a sport can only be generated if people play sports, cheer on the field, enjoy the thrill of the competeition like we (at least I) did in interhouse and interschool tournaments.”

    Now now be careful. Maybe 50 years from now there will be no schools. Maybe education will shift online. And times and interests change. A few days back, a report in NYT said that golf, that great game, was losing appeal amongst the elite. So maybe 50 years from now, CEOs may play Xbox. The kind of excellence you are talking about is self transcendence, say like Sergei Bubka or Emil Zatopek. Now remember that persuit is personal, culture has nothing to with it. As an example, there is a culture now of going to the gym. Many do it to get fit, many for networking, many for hitting chicks (a frnd of mine actually wears Hugo Boss to the gym…lol), many cuz doc told that them if they don’t run and only smoke and drink, they will accelerate towards a heart attack. But few people do it out of that inner zeal and enthusiasm. You may not know but there were 2 bengali bodybuilders who were Mr. Universe in the 50s- yes Mr. Universe- Manohar Aich and Manotosh Roy. These are classic examples of people who did something because they loved it. Without that inner love, gym may be just something you do so that the fat from the cheese pizza you had yesterday doesn’t accumulate around your waist. Do you see the difference? The thrill of competition that you talk about can be accentuated by monetary rewards, ie college scholarships etc and for young boys via sexy cheerleaders and short skirts etc.

    “Most of us however, are armchair “sports appreciaters”. Most people who watch football have probably never played even a gulli match with friends.”

    Again, that is a fallacy. I have been to plenty of sports bars during football (American football) matches. The most ardent supporters are generally the biggest slackers who can drink a pitcher of beer just like that. Also look at the bodies of Barmy army or the English football supporters. And it is this support base which precisely makes sport popular enough for advertisers to sponsor their coverage on TV.

  69. You are confusing Interest with Performance. Cricket is not the no. 1 support in Australia. Only few states play it and even less follow it. Yet, it does not impact its performance. If the administration improve, the performances improve, you will see people flocking back to watch matches. We all lost interest because we began to lose.

    Hockey is still much faster and unpredictable than a 20-20 cricket game.

  70. As usual a very interesting comment thread.

    Summarizing the points of interest.

    1. Field Hockey is nowhere a game of the masses like soccer or American rules football or even cricket. Hence interest in it will always remain limited. The Aussies or the Dutch are not crazy about hockey but they do decently well. In other words, “lack of hysteria” about a particular sport should not be the reason for its mediocrity.

    2.Hockey isn’t conducive to gully games. It requires a lot of space and hockey sticks, one for each player. This is in contrast to cricket. That is a valid point but wasn’t this true even in those days when people in India were passionate about hockey? Hockey was always a game played at school with the school owing the hockey sticks. A point that is often made or used to be is that hockey isnt as elitist as cricket, with minorities and people from depressed states excelling. This seems to be counter-intuitive in this context right?

    3. Mismanagement. That’s a given in sports in India. Cricket has made its way around it. So should hockey.

    4. Hockey never had a Sachin. That’s perhaps because by the time, the celebrity-creating-medium took roots in India (television, cable, Net), India were not performing consistently at the international level.

    5. I did play hockey as part of my Class 10 physical education. I even had more than 80% marks in PE. Yeah thats tough to believe too.

  71. @All the people talking about hockey not being conducive to gully games, I vehemently disagree. As I have said in a post before this, we used to play with crude sticks and in grounds no where close to full size, let alone that, even in the smallest of places like coffee drying enclosures. And I dont agree that hockey is not elitist either. Coorg again is an example, home to extremely cosmopolitian, living it up types -wealthy estate owners/planters. It has produced world class players time and again. (Over 50 national players till date from one of Indias smallest districts!) Arjun Halappa,the latest. Its just the passion that matters and the sport is engrained in thier culture.

    While on that, the natives also host the worlds biggest hockey tournament/family event.(Guiness Records) A competion between families/clans every year with over 5000 players participating!It perhaps drives home the point, that its passion which drives the sport!

  72. Why we dont perform in many sport (incl cricket) is a big question.
    I would certainly disagree with the lack of viewership. As a spectator everyone has their right to choose the game they like.
    Lets look at this..how many like watching Chess. So, what makes Vishwanathan Anand win?
    The same in the case of Squash, Badminton, Billiard players atleast in India..
    Btw before rooting for cricket, lets not forget that we are not doing great in cricket. we have ‘started’ doing well in cricket. In cricket once we dint get into the super six of the World Cup but then all that we needed was a test series with bangladesh for the people to forget the debacle. However, in the case of hockey, we would remember only by the next Olympics
    and the line would go’Oh my god with this population why are we not there’
    For any sport to flourish, it should be looked as a career path. The govt should encourage. I remember reading an article in ‘The Week’ almost 10 years back about how hockey players dint have much money to spend when they are overseas while the Hockey Federation in India did get enough funds and that facilities were lacking
    The problem is not with the viewers as they have the right to watch the sport that interests them. the problem is the govt giving importnace only to that sport which draws public

    Well, the players should find the spirit and make a come back.

    We cant compare ourselves with the US, China or Australia because they groom athletes. US even buys them off..Sports is something as important as any development programme in these countries.

    First and foremost, we need to have a better management person as the Sports Minister.
    India instead of talking about hosting an Olympics shoould start having effective programs to groom people when they are young

    And when they achieve..recognise them

    And for anyone who dosent want to blame the govt, this is a piece of info I would like to remind..
    During the last Olympics, the people from India who ran with the torch included great Sports people from the land namely – Bipasha Basu, Vivek Oberoi, Salman khan..
    Afterall, people like PT Usha, Prakash Padukone had nothing to do with sports
    I am not sure what more I would need to add!

  73. Spirit virit gaya tel lene. The point is that fans have stuck to cricket even though it has gone through some horrendous times: matching fixing, World Cup first round exit etc. Hockey has died and I don’t agree with the logic that it has died because we don’t win enough. I, frankly, would not follow hockey even if we win like crazy, because I like the game of cricket. If a whole generation of fools like me have to be convinced to love some other sport, the sport has to be more accessible and more marketable, neither of which it is now.

    Daily Humor

  74. the reason for the decline of the hockey is that since advent of astro turf, the game has become more athletic!
    we indians are not that athletic because of the food habits and the way we are brought up..
    the reason why we like cricket is..that this one of the games where a non atheletic person can play the game becoz of his skills….(can u imagine sachin tendulkar with his structure can be allowed to play anyother game…)

  75. You bring a good answer if you will to GB’s question about what are the reasons for the decline in Hockey coverage and I think it is like a catch 22 where we have to infuse resources to get results to increase support from people but to get resources we needs people to care.

    Field Hockey is nowhere a game of the masses like soccer or American rules football or even cricket. Hence interest in it will always remain limited. The Aussies or the Dutch are not crazy about hockey but they do decently well. In other words, “lack of hysteria” about a particular sport should not be the reason for its mediocrity.

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