Can India improve its standing by marketing hockey and football? (Column: Just Sport)
One World Cup has just got under way and another is ending Sunday. Both football and hockey majors seem to mean much to India as well as the international federations governing the two popular sports.
One wonders why the chiefs of world football and hockey keep talking about India as a powerhouse in the foreseeable future - both on and off the pitch. Both are looking at India as a milch cow to market the sport!
Did anyone take Sepp Blatter seriously when the FIFA chief pompously stated that India is a sleeping giant which is slowly waking up? Or, for that matter, when FIH president Leandro Negre said the India is the future of hockey and its new mailing address.
Negre is right, in FIH's scheme of operations, India is high on its list to tap emerging markets and it can be seen the way the 2015-2018 international calendar has been prepared with one major international event allotted to the country every year. He was cautious in saying that with so much of hockey here he hoped India to be a force to reckon with in the game.
India hosting the Hockey World League finals in 2015 and 2017 and in-between the Junior World Cup and in 2018 the men's World Cup is a highly impressive docket, organisationally, but will it translate into pushing India into the top four or five hockey nations on the turf?
The only thing that can cheer the Hockey India (HI) is the accruing financial benefits from FIH's sudden love for India. Like in cricket, hockey, too, should be in a position to fund its training camps and manage its bilateral tours to major hockey nations without helplessly looking for government funding.
A pity, because India, Pakistan, Malaysia and even South Korea are there just to fill the numbers at major international hockey tournaments these days. At The Hague World Cup, India got the better of Malaysia in the pool and South Korea in the classification match for the ninth position. If for India it is slipping one rung from the eighth position they were at the last World Cup in New Delhi, Korea's fall was steep, from sixth to tenth.
Pakistan for the first time did not even qualify and if it is any consolation, India are among the four nations to have participated in each and every World Cup since its inception in 1971, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain being the others. Whatever their standing, they are now in the top 10, India will be there at the 2018 World Cup as hosts.
After every demoralising performance, intrepid reporters dig out how much money the government has spent on hockey and compare it with the disciplines which have done medal-wise internationally even as HI, to show it existence, appointed a 10-member panel to go into the reasons for The Hague debacle.
Chief coach Terry Walsh and high performance director Roelant Oltmans hoped realistically for a top-eight finish and a possibility of sixth, which they felt would be truly outstanding, but they finished ninth. Promptly, like a good postman, HI shot off a missive to the two gentlemen to return home with a power point presentation. In the same breath HI also thanked goalkeeper Srijesh for his great work in seeing India did not finish at the bottom of the pool!
It is a case of seeing a glass half full or half empty. The optimists will argue that India should have won or at least drawn with Belgium and England, who both scored the winning goals in the last minute. And England are fighting for third position. They drew with Spain and were, as expected, crushed by Australia who stopped at first-half 4-0. The flip side of the argument will be what's new in it - India invariably lost games in the dying minutes.
What use of the probe panels when they are packed with names and not the people who are well-versed with modern hockey? The big names in the committee are in their 70s and played their hockey for the most part on natural grass. These members have all been part of the establishment in some position or the other whichever the dispensation. The authorities are buying these former players' silence by roping them in without realising how relevant their ideas are in today's ever changing hockey.
Looking at the accounts books of HI and saying that the money pumped into the game does not commensurate with the returns is a bit harsh. Things have started looking up moneywise only in the last couple of years.
The one good thing is HI doesn't depend solely on government funding any more. It has been able to mobilise sponsorship money from the corporate sector and that's an encouraging sign.
There are some who argue that Indian hockey should start from the bottom up and not worry only about the Indian team. The grassroots development is like the invisible anti-social elements - no one knows where can one find them!
In other words HI should go back to good old calendar which crammed tournaments for all age groups nationally. That's how it should be, perhaps, but today in every sport the accent is on providing international competition and leaving the development of sport and infrastructure to academies run by public sector undertakings.
The HI has to first list its priorities and create a system that works, not adhocism where there is no responsibility or accountability but only probe panels to save the authorities.
(Veturi Srivatsa is IANS Sports Editor. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 14-06-2014)