Ric Charlesworth: Hockey India League helped India make steady progress

The “revolution” Hockey India League must be revived for India to sustain the gains made in the last decade, according hockey coach Ric Charlesworth.

Ric Charlesworth...“The Hockey India League made a big difference. It played an important role in the re-development of hockey in India.”   -  Special Arrangement

For Indian hockey to capitalise on the gains made in the past decade, the national federation must revive the “revolutionary” Hockey India League, according to Australian coach Ric Charlesworth.

Charlesworth, who has worked as the men’s and women’s Indian teams’ Technical Advisor for four months in 2008, is a widely respected coach around the world. Commenting on the progress made by Indian hockey, he said, “I think India have been making steady progress. A decade ago they were 10th in the world, now realistically fifth. My view always was that it would take a decade to climb into the medal positions,” the 66-year-old told PTI in an interview here, on the sidelines of the Hockey World Cup.

Driver of change

“But I am not sure the domestic competition is deep enough in India. India need to get the Hockey India League (HIL) going. That’s been the principal reason for the change,” he said. “India is playing in this tournament without Sardar (Singh), Rupinder (Pal Singh), [and] S. V. Sunil and they still have a good team. India now has more depth,” he noted.

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The cash-rich HIL’s future looked uncertain when Hockey India postponed the 2018 edition because of financial issues. Some of the franchises threatened to withdraw, claiming financial losses in the five seasons it participated in. However, Hockey India plans to bring back a revamped version of HIL next year in a fast-paced five-a-side format. The gains made by Indian hockey will be difficult to sustain without the league, Charlesworth cautioned. “The Hockey India League made a big difference. It played an important role in the re-development of hockey in India,” he said.

Deeper pool of players

“The foreign coaches helped. The HIL saw foreign coaches and foreign players mixing with Indian players and that was important. It created a deeper pool of players but also gave the Indian players confidence that they could play against the best of the world,” added Charlesworth, who guided title-holder Australia to back-to-back World Cup wins in 2010 and 2014.

Hockey India postponed the 2018 edition of the Hockey India League because of financial issues. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Noting that India has the firepower to win the World Cup for the first time since 1975, Charlesworth said, “The winner will come from the top six teams and I have said that before. I think Germany, Holland, Argentina, Belgium and India are favourites. One of them will be the winner,” Charlesworth said.

‘Gladiators in the arena’

Asked about eight-time champion India’s podium chances in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he said, “I think it is possible. Realistically, India could win something here. But in the end, you have to be good enough to get into the semifinals from where anything can happen.”

Just like other sporting disciplines, hockey is also looking to market itself better. But Charlesworth is against the idea of corporate influence on sport. “Lots of the decisions are made because of money and it’s pretty unfortunate,” he said. “I am worried that there are gladiators in the arena now. Some of the decisions that are now made are not made for sports but for the sponsors and I think that’s a great danger,” he signed off.