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PASSING AWAY

Hockey, once India’s sporting pride, is now India’s ignominy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the game has become the stuff of successful Bollywood films, but has very little relevance in reality. The fall, however, is spectacular. It is still difficult to come to terms with the fact that India has failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. There was a time when it was taken for granted that India would be the Olympic champion in hockey. Then came the time India had to contend with Pakistan. This was followed by a period when India was among the teams that could become the champion. Now India has been reduced to an also-ran. The decline has a long history. When Dhyan Chand and his brother, Roop Singh, dominated pitches across the globe, India faced very little competition. What was equally important, the game — its rules and the way it was played — was suited to Indian skills. Hockey was a game of stick work and short passes. Wizards like Dhyan Chand dribbled and bamboozled defenders. This was what Indian hockey players were good at till the West discovered that India could not be beaten in its own game unless the nature of the game was changed. Thus came the era when the rules of hockey began to be altered. The ban on raising the stick above the waist was abandoned. Thus long passes and not dribbling emerged as the mode of play. This was facilitated by the fact that hockey began to be played on astro turf. Hockey became a game of fitness and stamina rather than one of skill. Indian hockey entered a period of eclipse; now there is darkness.

These factors, internal to the game of hockey, were compounded by official indifference to the game, and the inevitable faction-fighting that is the bane of all sports in India. K.P.S. Gill, who sits at the helm of affairs of Indian hockey, cannot avoid a lion’s share of the blame for the pathetic plight of the game in India. He has, over the years, done precious little for hockey in India. He remembered that he had a chair to occupy, but forgot that he had a duty to perform. He has presided over the death of Indian hockey. It was within his powers to stop the change in the rules and to protect India’s interests. It is simplistic to blame one man for the decline of a sport, but in the case of Mr Gill this seems difficult to avoid. He fiddled while Indian hockey fell from its proud pedestal.

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