Hockey in India, today is a dying sport with not much patronage in the country. On his 118th birth anniversary, here's remembering the legend - Dhyan Chand the man who helped India win three Olympic gold medals in 1928, 1932, and 1936.
The hockey great was known as the wizard for his awesome ball control and great play style that helped him become one of hockey's greatest players ever.
Having joined the Indian Army, Dhyan Chand and reached the rank of a Major. Chand played army hockey tournaments and regimental games and was ultimately selected for the Indian Army team and later the Indian national hockey team for which he scored many goals and went on to captain later on.
The hockey great's birthday is celebrated as National Sports Day and the sport awards - Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award are given to deserving players by the President on August 29 every year.
Dhyan Chand scored more than 1000 goals in his career that spanned from 1926 to 1948. During his last days, Chand suffered financial problems and died of liver cancer in a general ward at the New Delhi, AIIMS hospital.
Today, a stadium named after Dhyan Chand and when hockey is played around the world the legend is remembered. His legacy lives on but the Indian national game struggles as officials over patronise cricket.
Sad state of hockey in Mumbai
India’s national game is losing its way in the commercial capital, where the minimum cost for a decent hockey stick is Rs500, while a hockey ball costs Rs50, plus decent shoes that cost Rs800. If you’re taking about the goalkeeper, yeah the same person who has to be all padded up to prevent the ball from being struck in the goal post, the kit costs a minimum of Rs10, 000.
Surely these rates are not something families in the city will be willing to shell out easily when rent and basic amenities cost a bomb. “Besides the gear, the places available to play the game are limited,” said Scott Tellis, 17, an FYBA student at St. Xavier’s college who plays hockey.
Tellis says that the Mahindra Association ground at Churchgate get very crowded in the evenings when a number of school and college teams come to practice there. Keaton Talker, 15, who has just passes his standard 10 exams, agrees with Tellis, “At my school, St. Stanislaus, Bandra, we have a grass but at the competitive levels it is mandatory that we play on turf which is sadly only available at Churchgate.”
Besides these reasons according to former Indian hockey player, Gavin Ferreira the lack of interest among kids in hockey is due to the lack of competitive tournaments at the school level in the city. Ferreira added, “Hockey, today is not a game that we see on television as much as people who love the game would like to so it’s only when a hockey world cup happens that people end up flocking to the stadiums to watch it.”
Noel Lobo, selector of Rebels Sports club, a first division hockey club in the city agrees with Ferreira and added, “Earlier a large number of hockey players were recruited in government jobs, but now that number has dwindled. Perhaps today, only the railways still recruits hockey players. When the incentives are not so attractive the people who play the sport today are those who are really passionate about it.”
One person who tries to keep hockey in Mumbai alive is Mr. N Chandrashekar, secretary of the Mumbai School Sports Association who is a passionate about the national sport. Lobo said, “Thanks to Mr. Chandrashekar’s efforts the school playing in the hockey tournaments have actually increased in the past one year.
Chandrashekar who has taken the Under-16 Mumbai boys team to play in Germany last year said, “I go to schools all over the city and encourage them to restart hockey in their schools. The national sport needs to be played in the city.” Chandrashekar says that there are now 35 schools in total who play in the Mumbai hockey tournaments and he tries to provide them with coaches, he himself is a coach and starts the initial coaching in new schools and later assigns coaches to them.
Scott Tellis said, “Hockey is a hobby for me and many of my friends. Our parents were hockey players as kids and loved the game and so encouraged us to play.” Gavin Ferreira said, “Traditional hockey playing schools like Stanislaus, St Anne’s, Don Bosco’s continue to play but due to a number of reasons the numbers of schools playing have dwindled. The university structure needs to provide incentives to students and help their talent flourish; sadly that is not the case.”
In the streets of the city cricket is a common game and many schools have started cricket classes in the city with kids wanting to be the next MS Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar. Ferreira said, “Cricket is the heartbeat of India, its high time we stop complaining about cricket and so something about hockey. It’s no use comparing the two sports the systems that operate in both are very different.”