That timely, sustained, proactive media intervention can do wonders in crisis management has once again been brought to the fore. Both the print and broadcast media played a very positive and commendable role in rescuing Indian hockey from a financial crisis weeks before the hockey World Cup tournament (February 28-March 13, 2010) gets under way in Delhi.
The successful resolution of the dispute between Hockey India (HI) and its 20 probable players for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 over the non-payment of cash incentives has lifted the spirit of hockey lovers across the country. While the players claimed about Rs. 450,000 each as arrears due to them, the organisation was not prepared to pay more than Rs. 25,000.
Although it was the announcement by World Cup sponsors Sahara India that they would pay Rs. one crore forthwith to help clear the dues that clinched the issue, the outcome was sweetened by liberal offers from several other benefactors, notably the governments of Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, besides corporate bodies such as Bajaj Allianz and Shree Cements, and numerous film personalities. The turnaround owed much to the efforts of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi. But no less significant was the contribution of newspapers and television channels, which did effective ground work through their powerful editorials, articles, debates, and interviews. Donor contributions are set to total several crores of rupees. This has encouraged the players to promise their best to win the World Cup and enabled the optimists among hockey lovers to look far beyond and dream of a return to the past. Calling upon the players to resume their training, Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill proclaimed that it was his objective to “lift Indian Hockey to the glorious level it has had in the past.”
Evolution of the game
Indian hockey has a long history behind it. Hockey or field hockey, as it is known in its modern form, evolved in the British Isles in the 19th Century. It was a popular school game in England. Hockey was taken to the colonised countries by the British army. The Indian hockey team was the first non-European team to become a member of the International Hockey Federation. It won its first Olympic gold in 1928 and remained unbeaten for more than three decades. Between 1928 and 1956, India won six gold medals in a row. Its total Olympic score up to now is eight gold, one silver, and two bronze medals.
Hockey used to be so popular that it was declared India’s National Game. About 35 national tournaments were being held in different parts of the country and millions of people watched them. Many of these tournaments have disappeared from the scene now. The Partition of the country badly affected the game, with a significant number of hockey-playing people going to Pakistan. The game began losing patronage and support in the 1970s.
In fact, hockey began yielding its popularity to cricket much before the 1970s. Lack of government support, inadequate infrastructure, politics in the selection of players for international tournaments, and corruption and lethargy have all been cited as reasons for the game losing its lustre over the decades. The commercialisation of the game and a decline in media coverage over the long term have also been seen as possible reasons for the erosion in the game’s popularity. The Premier Hockey League, launched in 2005 by the Indian Hockey Federation with exemplary support from ESPN-Star Sports, is an attempt to revive public interest and restore the game to its past glory. The League’s performance over the past half-decade is generally regarded as encouraging. The hope is that the newfound enthusiasm among players and the uplifting response from hockey fans and their solidarity with the players who fought for their rights will enlarge the popularity of hockey.
Great deal of work ahead
A point for the media. Their role in spotlighting the recent hockey crisis and stepping up the pressure to resolve it in a fair and decent way has indeed been exemplary. But this role must be effectively sustained after the immediate crisis has been resolved. Sports journalists and various others in the media have a great deal of work ahead of them if they are to make a real difference to the health and future of India’s National Game.