~ Prakriti Prakash
The title might confuse the readers since cricket is not a part of the Olympics and ‘Men in Blue’ is used to refer to our cricketers. But this phrase has been deliberately put in place. It has been used to give long-due recognition to our Indian Men’s Hockey Team who made us proud at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 by winning the Bronze medal. This blog aims to tell the story of the rise and fall of Indian Hockey and what lies ahead. Let’s begin.
From Left to Right –
UPPER ROW: Gurjant Singh, Birendra Lakra, P.R. Sreejesh, Mandeep Singh, Amit Rohidas, Surender Kumar, Rupinder Pal Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay
LOWER ROW: Shamsher Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Manpreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Sumit Walmiki, Harmanpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Dilpreet Singh
The squad for Tokyo Olympics 2020 was a hybrid of debutants and seasoned players. It was surprising for many that not less than ten members were going to play their first Olympics in Tokyo. The team comprised five defenders, five midfielders, five forwards and one goalkeeper. Manpreet Singh was assigned the leadership. Notably, senior players like Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh were dropped. Clearly, the Indian team was a mixture of youth, vigour, experience and calmness.
Rise And Decline Of Indian Hockey
There was a time when the Indian hockey team used to dominate the world of hockey. India has won 8 Olympic gold medals, six of them consecutively. Legendary players like Major Dhyan Chand PB, Dhanraj Pillay, Balbir Singh Sr, Mohammad Shahid and so on comprised a formidable team that opponents used to dread.
The decline began in the late 1960s when new rules were introduced to field hockey. The game was no longer played on natural grass. Astroturf or artificial grass took its place. This created challenges for the Indian players. Playing on Astroturf required more muscle strength which the European players possessed. Indian hockey team could no longer play its natural game. Technical skills of dribbling, trapping and passing the ball possessed by Indians was not of much importance now. Physical strength gained disproportionate importance over technical skills. This skewed the game in favour of European players.
Apart from this, there was a lack of political will to support the game. The politicians did not provide enough financial support to fill the void created by the introduction of Astroturf. There were very few hockey grounds with artificial grass, making it difficult for Indian players to get accustomed to it. Almost no efforts were put in from the side of political leaders and the then Indian Hockey Federation. It was argued that laying Astroturf ground was expensive. And indeed it was. Wealthy nations took advantage of the new rules and began to dominate the game. The decline of Indian hockey began.
The Turnover In Tokyo Olympics 2020
Indian hockey team got severely handicapped with the coming of new rules. Our team failed to even make it to the podium finish since 1980. The medal drought continued to haunt us for 41 years. However, something surprising happened in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Our Indian squad did not only qualify for the Olympics but went on to win a Bronze medal, thus putting an end to the drought.
Is this feat just an event of luck?
Absolutely not. It is the efforts of several people which has paid off. Let us get to know the real heroes who need to be credited. This is where the role of the Odisha government needs to be acknowledged.
Role Of Odisha Government
With the continuous bad performance of the Indian Hockey Team after 1980, it began to lose sponsors. Fund crunch became a severe issue making it further difficult for the players to improve. None of the central authorities was willing to invest in hockey, deeming it a dead game.
In such circumstances, Odisha Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Patnaik came to the rescue. In 2017, he made the Odisha government the principal sponsor of Indian national hockey teams. By providing players with all the required facilities, the CM helped hockey come back on track. Kalinga stadium was renovated to host the Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2018. The capital city of Bhubaneswar soon became a hub of sporting events. It has 10 High-Performance Centres for various sports like hockey, football, shooting, weightlifting and so on.
And the results are in front of everyone. With world-class facilities, the best coaches and the efforts of our players, Indian hockey teams, both men and women, performed wonderfully.
Now you will no more wonder why the jerseys of our hockey teams have Odisha written over them.
We hope to see more such podium finishes in the upcoming years. Both the men and women’s teams have their eyes on the Paris Olympics 2024. Hopes are high to see India emerge as the champions of hockey once again. Team SKCF wishes all the best to our Olympians!