I’ve been thinking lately that we have turned into a people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Take hockey for instance.
It is our National Game, but like our National Animal, it is in danger of immediate extinction. Hockey gave this nation some of its greatest glory days when our team would return from the Olympics waving a bunch of glittering gold medals. No one could touch the Indian Hockey team. And then the world body changed the rules of the game, introduced astro turf which the government “could not afford”, changed the rules, they even changed the shape of the sticks, some say to curtail the dribbling and dodging skills of India and Pakistan. Holland, Germany, Australia, even Spain, raised research of hockey in every aspect to a fine art form, but India continued ignoring the game, leaving our bravehearts to battle it out on bad playing fields and miserable amenities.
It hurts to compare the treatment meted out to cricket and the crumbs – sometimes not even that – to hockey. The players were promised Rs 25,000 each if they got a podium finish. They won a number of podium finishes in the last two years, but not a paisa was forthcoming, Hockey India claiming it was broke, despite getting a reported Rs 77 lakh corporate sponsorship from Sahara.
Hockey India refuses to show the players the sponsor’s contract keeping the amount and utilization of the sponsorship money a secret. Hockey India is doing its damndest to tell the world that the players are after money, but ‘promise’ the players a crore is they win a podium finish at the World Cup beginning next month. Sports officials spend ten times the amount the hockey team is asking for on their junkets around the world. And they are filching it out of our pockets. If given a choice between funding the officials or the hockey team there’s no doubt who the taxpayer would back.
I have played hockey from the age of 11, in school, college and club hockey. The game and all that is associated with it, the blood, sweat and tears, the lost fingernails, the camaraderie, blind support of teammates and coach is something the value of which you cannot even begin to quantify. Three of my closest friends go back almost forty years to the hockey field. Till today I carry my limp like a badge of honour. My shinbones are so knobby with all the whacks from hockey sticks they feel like a starving man’s backbone. It is a tough game; it is a beautiful game and coming into contact with a well struck ball can make your life flash before your eyes.
When the Indian Hockey team participates in the World Cup, they are fighting to win against strong teams from across every continent in the world and from every major country in those continents. When the Indian Cricket team plays in what they call the “World Cup” it’s just a handful of ex-British colonies. Cricket has not “taken” in the Americas, most of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia. Hockey has.
But that is neither here nor there. We as a people have aided and abetted in the humiliation of the Indian hockey team through the last twenty years. No one rejoices when they win and even worse, no one mourns when they lose, even though India ranks among the top four teams in the world. The cruelest cut of all this: our football teams have more sponsorship and more audience-spectator appreciation than hockey, even though Indian football struggles way, way down the international football rankings.
We, we the people of India have allowed this to happen to our national game. When money talks value and values walk. Luckily this standoff between Hockey India and the Hockey Team of India has shamed many corporates and individuals into digging deep into their own pockets to help the players.
Whether the players get the money is debatable, but it was heartening to read a report in a national daily, of Dr James Leitao, a Goan settled abroad, who has decided to pay Rs 10 lakh to the players to return to training. He has also promised to donate his Goa residence to the Indian players if they manage a podium finish in the World Cup. Now that’s what I call knowing the value of the national game.