Hot seat - Michael Kindo,
former hockey player
Our eight-time gold medal winning Indian hockey team has failed to earn even a single point in all the five preliminary league matches at the London Olympics. Before the event began, you had said you were not quite optimistic about the team’s performance. Do you feel this has been their worst-ever show at the Olympics?
Sadly, yes. Holland, Germany and New Zealand were tough to beat but I had never imagined we would lose 0-3 to Belgium, which is considered the weakest of the six teams in the group. India was only side among the 12 participating teams to have earned this dubious distinction of nil points. Hockey fans in India are shattered.
Is it true that you have demanded that coach Michael Nobbs be sacked as he apparently held the players responsible for the losses?
Why must I do that? I blame the government. I blame the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Hockey India (the governing body for field hockey) for our poor show at the Olympics. These two bodies are divided, which has affected the morale of our players. Unless they merge, this team cannot win. It is a second-class team, most of them are amateurs.
Ignace Tirkey and Birendra Lakra were the only two players from Odisha to have been included in the squad. Why weren’t other good players, such as former India hockey captain Prabodh Tirkey, included?
Other good players were not included because they had taken part in the World Hockey Series. Prabodh, Roshan Minz and William Xalxo from the state were also not selected for Olympics because of this reason.
India will now play for the 11-12 positions. How can the team resurrect itself?
It is not easy to compete with European players as far as height and body build is concerned. But they must concentrate on converting penalty corners, which has been our weak area. More importantly, the IHF and Hockey India must merge in the interest of the players and the country.
The Premier Hockey League, an annual professional tournament for field hockey clubs in the country, was discontinued in 2008. How has this affected the players?
Players are disappointed. The tournament involved good money and helped new talents come to the fore. But there was no initiative on the government’s part to sustain the event or popularise our national game. So it was stopped in 2008. The same year, the Indian Premier League for cricket was introduced. You can see how much media attention it enjoys today.
Do you think youngsters today are interested in hockey? What can be done to promote the game in Odisha?
Children in big cities prefer cricket, but those in tribal areas are interested in hockey. Most facilities are, however, concentrated only in one district — Sundergarh, with three turfs, sports hostels and academies. We need more coaches and grounds. I have heard a hockey turf is being prepared at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
What would you say about the role of Odisha Hockey Association (OHA)?
People heading the association have vested interests and do not care about the future of hockey. When Orissa Steelers crashed out of the semi-final of the Premier Hockey League in 2008, the secretary, Pratap Satpathy, put the blame on Dilip Tirkey, who was leading the side. When I was chairman of the selection committee of OHA almost a decade ago, Satpathy finalised the team for a national tournament without consulting me. So, I had to quit the post. Now, some of us are planning to form a separate hockey association to revive the game.
Many sportspersons have left the state alleging lack of job opportunities and incentives. Prabodh Tirkey also shifted base to Jharkhand last year, stating that the state government did not acknowledge his achievements and failed to give him a job. Have you ever felt neglected?
During our time, we never used to get so many facilities or incentives like the present-day players. I was lucky to find employment with the Rourkela Steel Plant. Corporate organisations are more active in providing jobs to sportspersons these days. The Indian Army has its own hockey team and gives jobs to players. The state government must also go an extra mile to ensure that good players get their due.
What is the status of women’s hockey in Odisha?
Women’s hockey needs some more time, say, another five years, to gain recognition. We have some good female players.
Dilip Tirkey has joined politics. Do you think he would be able to devote time to groom budding talents?
Of course. By joining politics, he can help Odisha’s cause in terms of funding and better facilities for not just hockey but other sports too.
Do you plan to join politics too?
No! I am a peace-loving person. I am content with coaching and being the advisor of the veteran hockey association.
Veteran king of turf
Michale Kindo, 65, is a former hockey player, who was part of the World Cup-winning India team in 1975
He was also a member of the national side that earned a bronze medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics
Kindo, who played at full back position, originally hails from Simdega district in Jharkhand
He started playing the game as a schoolboy and represented the country for the first time in 1971 during the World Cup in Spain
He also played the subsequent World Cups in 1973 and 1975
He is a recipient of the Arjuna Award. He worked with the Rourkela Steel Plant
Before the 2012 Olympics, he had said that he did not expect much from the present national team
In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Kindo had said: “Hockey is our national game and we once used to rule the world. But, it is disheartening to see that the country is not in a position to hold a world-class tournament on its own, inviting top hockey-playing countries at least once in two years. This could give a definite boost to the game here.”
What would you have been had you not been a hockey player?
I don’t know. I come from a very poor background, unsure of when we would get our next morsel of food.
With such conditions, what ambitions could I have had? I was in middle school when I held a hockey stick in my hand for the first time.
What started as a hobby gradually blossomed into passion. By the time I reached high school, I was participating at district-level and state-level hockey tournaments. Playing for the country was a dream come true. Those were the golden days.
Now that you have raised this question, I think I would have been a technician or a mechanic.