As India fared poorly in hockey in the recently concluded Olympics, questions are being raised about the future of our national game. Even though the country have won 8 gold medals in hockey since 1920 to 1980 in the world’s most popular sporting extravagaza since , the country has failed bring laurels for the country since then. At the Rio Olympics, the men’s team just managed to reach the quarterfinals after 36 long years, where they lost to Belgium 1-3. Talking to ‘Policy Pulse’, former India hockey player Ashok Kumar, who is also the son of legendary Dhyan Chand and part of 1975 World Cup winning team, discusses where Indian hockey has gone wrong and what steps should be taken to improve it.
After 1980, India has failed to win any Olympic medal in hockey. What are the reasons for this?
The main reason is that there are not many proper grounds. After Astro turf was introduced, our hockey players failed to adjust with changes, which Europeans did very well. We continued to play in defensive style. Even though our government and hockey associations did their bid to improve the infrastructure in the country but those were not enough.
Earlier Europeans were praising us, but now we are trying to catch up with them as far as performances in the field are concerned. In 1998, we won the Asiad, which should have been the turning point, which could not be. In 2008, our boys could not even qualify for Olympics. In 2012 London Olympics, they finished 12 and they just managed to reach quarter finals in Rio.
Who do you think country has failed to produce another Dhyan Chand?
Dhyan Chand played with a mission. He played for medals. He was successful and got recognition because of the sport. His mission was to see his team on the top. During his time, India thrashed US 24-1, the record which later Indian teams could not break.
A lot has changed since then. Now day’s players only think of money. They put their financial condition ahead of the game. Unfortunately, the government should also be blamed for this. They should reward players on winning tournaments and medals and also give them more recognition. Everyone should be treated equally.
With the rise of cricket, hockey has become a neglected sport in India, especially among people living in metropolitan cities. Do you agree?
I think the government and hockey federations should try more to improve the hockey infrastructure in the country. They do take care of players who are selected for the country to some extent, but not much. Look at the conditions of our hockey players who play at domestic level. Their careers are totally ruined. We see them open shops and also do some odd jobs to run their livelihood.
We have so many great ex-players who are being neglected totally. They get only Rs 10,000 odd as pensions.
Government should take their conditions into consideration. They take care of our ex-members of Parliament and MLAs so well, but turn blind eye on our sportspersons which is quite unfortunate.
Do you think the infrastructure provided by government and hockey associations are enough to sustain the popularity of hockey in the country?
Not at all. Even though the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and state bodies are working hard, they are not enough.
We can also see some work being done in Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh for the further development of hockey in order to popularize the game, they are not enough.
Hockey should be made more popular is schools and colleges; however we have failed in that front. Those who play in junior hockey their first aim is to get a job first when they grow up. If they keep on doing well in hockey and get selected in national team that adds to bonus for them and nothing else. Winning medal or trophy for the country is not a mission among many new players now a days, which is quite sad.
Has bringing in foreign coaches helped Indian hockey teams?
No, I don’t think so. They have not taken India to success, they should have. In the beginning experience was good, but foreign coaches are for India coaches, they are not domestic coaches.
We have great coaches like MK Kaushik, Vasudevan Baskaranbhaskaran, who can handle the team well.
Unfortunately, they are neglected. Only god knows what results will we get in future if we continue with foreign coaches.
Why do you think India has failed to produce world class athletes? Is there a problem with our physical infrastructure?
Yes, certainly. In India, We do not have proper technology to train our athletes. Many players travel outside for training. Still we only got two Olympics medal.
Hockey team also went abroad to play, but not results. Wrestlers went, shooters went, but did not find success.
Lakhs of bucks were spent on them, but they could not show any results during just concluded Olympics.
Athletes get success on their will and determination to succeed. Coaches can only polish their talent.
Take for example, Pullela Gopichand. He only honed the skill of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. Both shuttlers further succeeded at international level because they had talent and self determination to perform at the there.
In India, we do not have any sporting culture. It has to be developed first if we want for medals at the Olympics. We should first select kids who talented in different streams of sports and train them properly for at least eight years before sending them to the world’s highest sporting event and other international events.
What would you say about the performances of our players in Rio Para-Olympics?
I am quite impressed by their performances. They are disabled and yet they have brought laurels for the country. But see what our other athletes who are fully fit have done in the just concluded Rio Olympics last month.
Having said that one must say gymnasts like Deepa Karmakar should be praised and encouraged. She is the first India gymnast to each Olympics final. We need this kind of talent in the country, only we can succeed in sports.