Indian hockey - Damn the players, it’s all about power!

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 14, 2011 10:29 hrs

Hockey India and the International Hockey Federation (FIH) have cut the nose to spite the face. Perhaps, that best describes the fall-out of the postponement of World Series Hockey. Apparently, more the changes more remain the same in Indian Hockey that continues to languish in penury and mediocrity.

In my 30 years of active association with the game, I have had the misfortune of watching from close quarters the functioning of the game's administrators none of whom (without exception) have had any vision or the intention to develop hockey, much less promote it. In the event, I am hardly surprised that the grandiose WSH project has been shelved, at least for the time being, and an uncertain future awaits it.

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Unlike the IPL, the WSH is not so much about club versus country as Hockey India versus Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). The HI officials were caught napping by the Nimbus-IHF move to launch the WSH that promises riches beyond the wildest dreams of a humble hockey player. Never before has so much been offered and I don't blame the players if their eyes are lit up with the dollar sign rather than the National Flag.

After all, playing hockey for India is more a labour than a pleasure, given the fact that the monetary returns are hardly commensurate with the toil that the players put in to reach the highest level. In fact, it is just not Yuvraj Walmiki who hails from the shanties of a big city. He is latest among the hundreds before him who have emerged from similar, if not worse, background.

One of the current India players, Bharat Chhikara, for instance, is the son of a bus conductor and who came to Delhi with a dream of playing hockey. He didn't have money even for a modest meal and survived on the benevolence of a friend.

Let's be honest and face the facts. Indian hockey teams over the decades have rarely had players with proven academic proficiency or even a middle-class background. Their lack of education and poverty were ruthlessly exploited and manipulated by the administrators who only threw crumbs but which were like manna from the heaven for these poor souls.

Our country's so-called ''economic resurgence'' is hardly reflected in Indian hockey that continues to survive on government’s largesse. The tragedy is that the odd good result only injects a false sense of well-being as far as the sport is concerned.

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Under the circumstances, the multi-million dollar WSH is obviously an irresistible carrot for hungry hockey players, not just Indian, but also foreign. World-wide, hockey is not a career option for most. In India, the sport at best can get you a low-paying job, and a medal in any tournament could get you a promotion or hike in salary, but little else.

The WSH, if it is held at all, will provide an IPL-type opening for hockey players who can then hope to rake in some much needed cash and improve their livelihood. Thus, as a concept, WSH is brilliant. The pity is that it has emerged at the wrong time with two sets of warring and self-centred administrators fighting for power. The players and the WSH are caught in the crossfire.

You could say that Nimbus backed the wrong horse by associating itself with the IHF when it was known that it was rightly or wrongly de-recognised. The FIH, not a laggard when playing politics, has done its two-bit to further muddy the waters by according HI official recognition without exercising due diligence before supporting a body that usurped power by questionable means.

I have chatted with some of the Indian players in the past month, and they all are confused, frightened and insecure, not knowing what is best for them. It is a tough call given the consequences they face if they play in an un-sanctioned competition.

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I am convinced that in the coming weeks, the HI and FIH will work at pace to ensure that the WSH remains still-born. The stakes are about power and not money. I feel that both these bodies have traversed too far down the road to backtrack. As for IHF, it has to shoulder a lot of blame for allowing the game to slide. After all, the IHF has been in existence for decades and it has done precious little to uplift the profile and standard of hockey in India.

The off-shoot of the shenanigan is that the sport's image has taken a pounding and is bleeding profusely. Should India qualify for the 2012 Olympics, it will only provide some temporary succor and little else, because the battle among the officials is far from finished.

Of course, the game will survive these tribulations, as it has in the past, but I doubt if it will ever thrive. So much the pity.

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