My grandfather played hockey for the Indian Military Academy in pre independent India. I am told, him being an outstanding player (apart from excelling in football and athletics) was one of the reasons the Maharaja of Patiala recommended his commission (grand dad was an enlisted jawan) as an officer and his berth to write the entrance for the IMA. His two sons, Maj Gen C.S Panag (retd) and Lt Gen H.S. Panag (my father) played outstanding hockey. My cousin Vikramjit Panag played hockey for Delhi state. My mother and aunts( dad’s sisters) all played hockey for Chandigarh. I too have dribbled a bit in boarding school. Understandably my ties with Hockey run deep (so what if I wasn’t cast in Chak de:-)).
So it was with anguish that I reacted to the media blaming India’s no show at Beijing on KPS Gill and the politics in the team. It’s always easy to simplify an issue. Can any one name the players on the Hockey team?? Probably not. I am ashamed to admit I can’t. Ask any gali ka chokra about the cricket team and he’ll rattle of India’s 11. Cricket players set hair trends. But does any even one know about our celebrated hockey players?
I was in Malaysia, staying at the same hotel as the Indian hockey team during the 6th Asia Men’s’ Hockey Cup. I could not recognise a single face. (Forgive me for being blinded by cricketers as they endorsed everything in sight). I went and saw the semi final match where India beat Pakistan. But the next day, back in India, I was surprised to find all coverage of their feat (they went on to beat Australia to lift the cup) relegated to a miniscule corner on the sports page. How many times in the recent past has Hockey (they’ve won enough, their loosing streak is only 2-3 years old) made it to the front page? The only consistent Olympic medal winner was our hockey team. God knows how they achieved that with the apathy of our nation. All the money in sport seems to only go to cricket. The BCCI’s coffers are bursting. Why is it that cricket attracts more than its fair share of sponsorship? Its because of a careful brand building exercise that has been in place for the last two decades or so, resulting in Icons being created over night due to one century or taking a few consecutive wickets. Its a different matter that unlike other countries, our Hockey team can’t even count on the government for the much needed infrastructure it needs; from world class astro turf fields to, grass root training modules, hockey camps and finally getting good coaches. After all how can the government justify millions on Hockey (or for that matter any sport) when there are people with out clean drinking water, and other basic amenities?
Its up to private enterprise to step in and fill the gap. Mr. Subroto Roy Sahara made a good start by pledging to help Indian Hockey. But more needs to be done. How can a country of a billion strong not produce atleast 40 medals at the Olympics? Its shameful, that a country with a growth rate of more than 8% can’t put aside a little for sport. Investing in Sporting infrastructure will create employment apart from boosting the morale of aspiring athletes.
The media too owes it to the nation to put in the same energy sensationalising squash, weight lifting, shooting, hockey and football as it does with cricket. And lastly we the people need to look at all sportsmen and women through the same eyes. After all, whether a Sania or a Sachin or an unsung weightlifter or a hockey player; they all toil equally hard, put up with un fair politics and hold the country’s flag up high.