Friday, January 22, 2010

Time to say 'to hell with hockey'?

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
Indian hockey is a rather interesting subject. Not many people are really interested in it. But everyone knows that it is the right thing to shed tears about. Whether we like hockey or not, we can’t criticise it. We can’t, as Aslam Sher Khan once said, say ‘to hell with hockey’. We can’t. So when a set-up that has won nothing of note since 1980 cries about the players being slighted and ill-treated, we must cry for them. We must make the right noises about them. And we must criticise the powers-that-be for being insensitive towards our great national sport.

Okay, I agree that hockey must be backed, like all other sports. Not more, not less. If the Indian kabaddi team is in trouble, we should back them. If the Indian judo players are in trouble, we should back them. Only because they are being ill-treated by their bosses. For no other reason. So the Indian hockey players – men and women – must be backed and supported if their bosses don’t pay them money. Not because hockey is our national sport – it isn’t. Cricket is our national sport; about time we accepted it.

Honestly, I am a bit sick of this neverending sob story around hockey. It’s been well over 20 years that the world has moved to the astroturf. India doesn’t have a lot of grounds with astroturf, true – but the national team has always practiced on astroturf. Why then can’t we stop crying over being discriminated? Why is it that the rest of the world can play the fast-paced hit-and-run game while we can’t? We can’t because we choose to use it as an excuse to be failures.
We cry about hockey not being popular among the masses. Of course it’s not. It’s not popular because we haven’t taken it to the masses. Cricket became as popular as it is, because we won the 1983 World Cup just over a decade after the format was introduced. We adapted. We won the 2007 T20 World Cup – just 5 years after the format was introduced and before any of our players had played any serious T20 cricket. We adapted. As a result, the formats became popular. As a result, youngsters wanted to play cricket and nothing else. They also want to play tennis and football because they have their role models.

They don’t have a role model in hockey – no, not even Dhanraj Pillay.

It’s taken us 30 years, and we still haven’t adapted in hockey. Yes, the players should get the money they deserve, but at the same time, isn’t it high time they went out and won something important – apart from the Asia Cup and the Azlan Shah Trophy and the Champions Challenge? If they won, they would be heroes. They don’t win, so even a Shah Rukh Khan superhit can’t make the sport popular. No chance. And till then, all of us will continue to cry for our ‘national sport’ even though it’s not important enough.