For over three decades and a half, Ric Charlesworth has had a charismatic persona as a player, coach, commentator and author.
The 58-year old Western Australian, viewed as one of the best brains on the contemporary hockey scene and known for incisive analysis and comments, shares his thoughts on hockey and the forthcoming World Cup in this exclusive interview.
On the eve of the World Cup, how do you survey the scene? Is it vibrant or more needs to be done to meet the challenges from other sports?
I think the Champions Trophy and the competitions I saw last year show the game is in a healthy state. The new rule changes have improved the speed and skill of the game and I believe the World Cup is important as it will be watched by a bigger audience. Overall, I don't think hockey is in a bad position but we need to do more to commercialise the sport.
Everyone points to Australia as the likely team to regain the Cup? If not, which team will you pick as a threat — Germany, England or Spain?
I think the field is much wider than just Germany, England and Spain. You would have to also put the Netherlands in there and then there is India and Pakistan at home. New Zealand and Argentina are also credible opponents.
The stature of India and Pakistan has diminished considerably in the last two decades. Would you agree that the artificial turf and rule changes have hampered growth?
I agree that India and Pakistan don't have the status that they once did. They still have good players but I don't think their decline is due to either the artificial turf or rule changes. Artificial turf should actually be good for India. They have failed to modernise the game.
With Australia and New Zealand doing so well of late, do you think the balance of power will shift to Oceania from Europe?
No, I don't agree. I think hockey in Europe is quite vibrant and Asia still has some of the best hockey nations. I would like to move away from the reliance of penalty corners and I think the new rules emphasis speed and skill rather than power.
How would you rate the chances of the Asian teams in Delhi?
I think Korea showed at the Champions Trophy how good they are and are not to be underestimated. If India and Pakistan, playing at home, get off to a good start, I think they will show that they are good teams.
Do you support payment for players from the sponsors as demanded by players in India and Pakistan?
I don't fully understand the situation as I don't know all the details but I think players should get a share of sponsorship dollars. They are the drivers of the game and I support players getting their fair share.
Semi-professionalism exists in hockey with players getting payment in national leagues in Europe. Should this be built up even if it cannot be to the level of soccer, tennis or Aussie Rules football?
I think the market will determine how that develops. I think in some sports, there is a false market with rich benefactors distorting it. If you can afford to pay the players then you should. The quality and skill of the game will improve.
What should be the mode to attract sponsors? After all, hockey is attracting large crowds as witnessed in the recent Champions Trophy at Melbourne and the European Cup in Holland.
Those crowds are not that large in some senses. We need to market the sport better and when that happens, hockey will grow and the players will see the benefits.
After the consistently good show by the Aussies, the winner of the Champions Trophy, would you rate them as the best in contemporary hockey?
I don't think we are solid enough yet and still have much to do in order to make such claims.
How far you support the referral system introduced in the Champions Trophy?
It will be at the World Cup and I support it if it can help improve critical decisions. I think we need to help improve it and help it get better in order to make the game better.
What is your message to the Indian spectators who are expected to throng the reconstructed Dhyan Chand Stadium?
I think it is a marvellous stadium and I encourage the fans to come in large numbers to what is one of the best viewing stadiums in the world
Do you feel your players may be distracted by security concerns here after the series of attacks on Indians in Australia that have been seen in India as racial?
I think the very unfortunate occurrences in Australia were very few. Overall we are looking forward to a great tournament.