If you are inclined to identify happy tidings for India in the recent Hockey World League (HWL) there were a couple of noticeable points. The draw and the victory over the Olympic champion, Germany, plus the bonanza of points that will enhance the world rankings cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.
Though only small consolation from an overview these developments should generate hope. Amidst drawing blanks in major competitions over the decade, India was unable to obtain a direct entry to the World Cup scheduled at the Hague in May-June this year.
It had two chances but failed in both: first in the HWL at Rotterdam where it finished last — and ended the career of Michael Nobbs as coach — and then it missed the spot by a whisker in the Asia Cup.
The entry to World Cup did come, though through the most circuitous and agonising route. Simply put, moments to relish were few and far between last year.
It is ironical and somewhat intriguing that India manages to get big ticket competitions such as the World Cup, two sections of the HWL, including the final, the high profile Hockey India League etc.
Certainly there has been an appreciable measure of enterprise and even a degree of efficiency in selling India as a market to top-level events, including the Champions Trophy to be hosted in December this year in Orissa.
The FIH utilises to the hilt India’s history and the avenues for sponsorship. The patronage from paying spectators, however, is dwindling. The poor response to the WHL made many wonder whether the popularity of the sport has touched its nadir.
Public apathy is largely due to the fact that all the competitions are confined to Delhi. Centres like Mumbai, Chandigarh and Bangalore, which boast of good following are rarely in contention for a major event.
It is true that the infrastructure in Delhi is world class. But there are venues adequate enough to play host. Chennai, for instance, has hosted two Champions Trophy events and an Asia Cup.
Another point that needs examination relates to the structure. There is an enormous duplication emerging from twin power centres of administration. In a large number of states, the associations are in total disarray. The players are as confused as the promoters.
This has restricted the available national talent pool for selection under Hockey India to a mere 40 or so. Minus the injured, those fit enough to earn the country’s colours are not even 20.
The plethora of foreign coaches and trainers has little or no exposure to explore new talent from tournaments, which are indeed legion.
Regrettably, India struggled to field a full complement of fit players last year. Even for the HWL, India could not play all its best players on the frontline.
With a host of international engagements ahead, the game is suffering for want of a well-defined system to extinguish the maladies that had crippled it in every facet.