It was curtains for the second edition of the Hockey India League (HIL) with Delhi Waveriders defeating Punjab Warriors last month. And, despite the moderate success (as not all matches went house full in the first two rounds) the organisers took little time to announce their expansion plans.
The league began with five franchisees — Delhi Waveriders, Punjab Warriors, Uttar Pradesh Wizards, Ranchi Rhinos and Mumbai Magicians and then accommodated Odisha’s Kalinga Lancers as the sixth team in HIL-2.
“The plan is to have eight teams by 2016 and 10 by 2018. One of the teams joining the tournament is most likely to be from south India as the region does not have any representation yet,” said HIL chairman Narinder Batra.
“The move has been welcomed by the participants. It was obvious as many young Indians got the opportunity to rub shoulders with world class hockey wizards. The players, who aspired to don India jerseys in future, must have realised the prerequisites for the same and the level they need to attain. And, those who have been regulars in the Indian team, it was a good revision for them. Pretty much like school textbooks. After a few chapters, we have a test. But to what extent this would encourage budding hockey players is a million-dollar question,” added Batra.
Leading Dutch goalkeeper and Olympic medallist Jaap Stockmann claimed that although HIL was the best thing that could have happened to India, it would take at least another five years to move up the ladder.
Talking of Stockamann, it was a fruitful trip for him. Going by his own admission, the goaltender, a banker back in the Netherlands, HIL has given oxygen to his professional life. It has happened at an important juncture in his life.
The league has helped the 29-year-old prolong his career in field hockey. “It was getting tough for me to play at the top level and manage the bank job as well. I am required to work only 20 hours a week. Now, I can fully focus on my game, all thanks to India,” said Stockmann, who was bought by Punjab Warriors for $68,000.
In short, it was a win-win situation for the players irrespective of nationality.
But then HIL went unnoticed in Gujarat. Most of us in this part of the world were oblivious to HIL. Though it was telecast live, only diehard hockey fans followed it. In fact, I doubt if the officials of Hockey Gujarat watched all the matches live or otherwise. If we conduct a survey, where school students are asked which players don Mumbai Indians jersey in the Indian Premier League and who represent Mumbai Magicians in the Hockey Indian League, I bet most of them would be able to answer the question related to cricket but not hockey. The simple reason behind this may be the lack of hockey astro-turf, a demand overlooked in Gujarat.
Coming back to Batra’s words, HIL wishes to have a franchise from southern India. He did not talk about Gujarat, the so-called wealthiest state. Batra knows that Gujarat neither has any hockey legacy nor any promise of producing any national player soon, unlike southern states, which have been delivering international players at regular intervals. Ironically, one of the vice-presidents of Hockey India belongs to Ahmedabad. But he, too, did not spell out his plans.
If there is no astro-turf, Gujarat will not produce any national level players. Consequently, parents will be apprehensive about hockey and once again, there will be no players representing Gujarat. It shall become a vicious chain. Will it not be more viable if the guardians of HIL first ensure that the game reaches every nook and corner of our country (by building hockey turf)?
IPL has been successful because BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has ensured that every association affiliated to it has at least one first class ground where players can practise regularly. It is high time that Hockey India, too, focuses on international standard grounds. In other words, lay astro-turf across the country if it intends to make the game popular and restore it to its glory days.