The need of the hour is to craft an incentive-oriented programme, writes S. Thyagarajan

That none of the Asian teams qualified in the set of seven for the next World Cup is disheartening. This is an unambiguous endorsement to the growing chasm that divides Asia and the rest.

Of the seven assured of a spot, four (the Netherlands (host), Germany, Belgium, England) are from Europe, two (Australia and New Zealand) from Oceania and one (Argentina) from South America. Five slots remain to be filled.

Once the beacon light for skill and aesthetics, Asia — with India and Pakistan as super powers — now faces the prospect of slipping into the twilight zone. The chances of India or Pakistan missing the event for the first time cannot be discounted.

Even Korea, which captured the imagination of the public with a sparkling brand of hockey from 1986 — it won a silver in 2000 Olympics at Sydney — looks stranded in a queer street. For all the investments and streamlining Malaysia is struggling to regain a place in the elite zone after 2002.

Significantly, all the four major players in the region have opted for foreign expertise for nearly three decades. Malaysia has had a handful of them from the 90s starting with the Aussie Terry Walsh. Currently, it is guided by the South African Paul Revington. For a long time the Koreans avoided the temptation. Eventually, they settled for a consultant, Paul Lissek.

Pakistan pinned its faith on the Dutch coach, Hans Jorritsma, despite stiff opposition from the traditionalists. But it recaptured the World Cup in 1994. Its subsequent recruits, Roelant Oltmans and Van den Heuvel, failed to deliver.

For India, the obsession began in a quixotic way. Germany’s Gerhard Rach surfaced on the scene weeks before the Olympics at Athens.

What needs to be examined is whether foreign expertise has yielded results. The answer is negative. None of the four has won any major title — Olympics, World Cup or the Champions Trophy — in nearly two decades.

This is not to suggest that foreign training is unworthy or merely elitist. These coaches hired are knowledgeable, professional and possess impeccable credentials. They are committed and work tirelessly in a system that is invariably inimical, nit-picking and under extraordinary pressure to perform a miracle.

The weight of expectations for immediate results has devastated many.

Coaches with outstanding records such as Terry Walsh, Ric Charlesworth, Jose Brasa, Paul Lissek, and Roelant Oltmans, were subjected to a lot of embarrassment and pain of being removed without a hint of gratitude by those who employed them.

For Asian hockey the overall scenario is disturbing. The efficacy of foreign coaches is one factor. But primarily the area of concern is plummeting standards.

Hockey does not attract the youth anymore. In this era of professionalism the lack of financial rewards turn many to other lucrative disciplines.

The need of the hour is to craft an incentive-oriented programme.

The federations and the Asian Hockey Federation should work on a war footing.

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