Hockey enthusiasts are up in arms against the SAAP’s move to convert the Gymkhana ground into a skating rink

The timing – officials inspecting the Gymkhana hockey ground for the creation of a 100-m skating rink on Saturday – could not have been more symbolic of the disturbing state of hockey in the city.

Even as they were on the job with the consent of the top brass of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, news trickled in of the demise of the finest hockey coach ever from Hyderabad, R.D. Abharanam, on Saturday morning.

By any means, it was not the kind of tribute one expected for someone who had put his heart and soul into training young talent at this very Gymkhana Grounds for close to three decades till the late eighties. Among those who got training are triple Olympian Nandnuri Mukesh Kumar and 1996 Atlanta Olympics goalkeeper Edwards Alloysius.

For decades, the Gymkhana hockey ground has been the only venue in the city where the best of young talent and seniors trained and competed in many tournaments. It was when the Begumpet Police Stadium got the astro turf in 1997, thanks to then HHA president H.J. Dora, the activities at the Gymkhana ground began to get confined to age group players. With police taking over the stadium recently, even that has become out of bounds now!

“This is disgusting, to say the least. When we are struggling to see that the ground is better maintained, comes this crazy idea of a skating rink at a venue where a few hockey players even now troop into to get a feel of hockey,” argues D. Ashok Mudiraj, former HHA assistant secretary.

Ironically, Indian Hockey Federation president V. Dinesh Reddy, who hails from the city, has repeatedly said that every effort will be made to revive hockey in a big way including laying an astro-turf at the Police Stadium.

“It will be sad if the Gymkhana doesn’t have this hockey ground. I have fond memories of this as I learnt the basics here and grew up the ladder,” said Mukesh Kumar.

Though the city boasts the twin astro-turf venues at the world-class hockey complex at Gachibowli, it is an open secret that none of the local tournaments is held there nor do the players go for regular training because of the distance, given the fact that hockey is still confined to the Secunderabad Cantonment area and, to some extent, AC Guards.

A senior SAAP official insisted that the inspection of the facility for creating a skating rink was only in the preliminary stage.

“We will see how hockey’s interests can be protected,” he told The Hindu.

Interestingly, the officials who inspected the ground on Saturday were clearly told that the ground was under the control of the Cantonment Board, and that nothing could be done without its permission.

“Only recently, we managed to appease the HCA top brass who otherwise would have extended their existing cricket facility right to the hockey ground,” argued HHA officials.

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