Ending up in the cellar

The Indian hockey coach Michael Nobbsseems resigned to his team’s fate.-PTI

Is a mass movement bordering on a revolution the answer to resurrect Indian hockey? Do we need an Anna Hazare to cleanse not only hockey, but all sport, in the country? It is time to ponder over such drastic measures, writes S. Thyagarajan.

It is a catastrophe begging for a stronger epithet. The tragedy of Indian hockey in London confounds everyone. True, it looks ironic to sink into such a morass of grief and gloom. After all India has not gained a genuine medal after the 1972 Games in Munich. Forget Moscow.

Every prediction has stood pulverised. The optimism churned by the media has proved misplaced, meaningless and even morbid. Though many did not buy the story of a semi-final ending, quite a few believed that a sixth spot finish was possible.

This looked realistic in the light of the performances in earlier tournaments. When India beat Britain for the bronze at Ipoh the confidence level definitely soared. Everyone was happy.

Few were prepared for the impending nightmare in London. When felled by the Dutch in the opening match, the bright patch looked at was the fight-back to level at 2-2. The 2-3 reverse was taken in the stride as an expected outcome against a superior and accomplished side.

But what followed was incredible. The defeats against the Kiwis Koreans and Belgium, not to speak of the encounter against Germany, where India held parity briefly, clearly underscored the inefficiency in every layer.

Here was a team that could get nothing right. The morale went tumbling down and the campaign culminated poignantly with the loss against South Africa in the last match.

The 12th place brought painful memories of the same rating obtained in the 1986 World Cup at Willesden. Some also recalled the glory of the gold medal in the London Games of 1948.

No sport in independent India stands destroyed with such systematic precision as hockey. The rot set in somewhere in the Sixties. It deteriorated through the decades to reach the state of inertia today.

The administrators milked the sport in every possible way leaving it an orphan begging for a morsel.

Empty rhetoric, an elementary lack of professionalism and pure arrogance clouded the thinking of those insensitive, shameless administrators many of whom could not distinguish between a walking stick and a hockey stick.

Minor successes here and there were hailed to create an “all is well” illusion and cheat the gullible fans. When the sequence of tragic performances continued, a clever ruse was crafted to shift the blame on to the international federation (FIH) and the European nations for undermining the ethos of Indian and Asian hockey.

Rule changes, synthetic turfs and umpiring came to be cited as the reasons for the decline.

Leaving aside the alleged causes for downfall, let us look into the period between 2008, when India missed the Olympic berth for the first time, and now. A stunned nation swallowed that horrendous moment with incredible disbelief. Harsh comments and calls for restructuring the administration came in a torrent.

The time was now ripe for the power brokers to step in and seize the moment to project a new agenda of self-aggrandisement.

The disaffiliation of the Indian Hockey Federation and the creation of Hockey India fuelled an unprecedented administrative chaos. This unimaginative and utterly nonsensical move continues to haunt the game. Unfortunately, even the international federation has been sucked into the turmoil. The FIH now feels totally embarrassed to be a part of this quagmire. The saga of impeaching coaches and inducting foreign ones since 2004 forms another pathetic chapter. The indifference shown towards a genius like Ric Charlesworth is too painful for a narration here. The travails faced by the hapless Spaniard, Jose Brasa, were harrowing.

When the former Australian Olympian, Michael Nobbs, took charge expectations were roused. As though to prove his credentials Nobbs piloted India to a trophy triumph at the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in Ordos.

Many perceived a marginal improvement in the approach and enhanced level of fitness.

The team was prepared with care and concern for the qualifier. When it made it to the top in New Delhi to regain the Olympic spot, the euphoria that engulfed the nation was surrealistic. There was a total disconnect between reality and the scale of that achievement. Yet, it was accepted as the source for stabilising the confidence level.

Nobbs enjoyed enough freedom to select the players. That probably paved the way for a fair selection of talent available in the pool. Predictably, Nobbs relied on experience and expertise though not wholly on youth, several of whom figured in the World Series of Hockey (WSH).

What unfolded in London shocked the millions across the globe. Expectations turned to despair as the senior and experienced stars began to fumble, exposing incredible incompetence. Former coach, V. Baskaran, said the players were lacking even in fundamentals.

Nobbs, apart from showing his anger and disappointment, could do precious little to reverse the trend. Match after match, the Indians became puerile in their displays.

Whom can you blame when everyone — save for Sardar Singh in the midfield — was unable to perform to his potential. There was a total lack of persistence, perseverance and pugnacity.

Sandeep was a huge disappointment. So were Gurbaj, Ignace Tirkey, Shivendra, Sunil and the goal-keeper Sreejesh.

Today, Indian hockey is in a shambles. May be this is an understatement. An iridescent history that spelled romance and reverence has reached its apocalypse, plumbing the abyss of decay.

Who is accountable for this situation? One may say it is a combination of factors.

But this explanation does not pass muster. The blame should be laid at the doors of the inefficient, corrupt, power-mad and egoistic administrators. The unending feuds and unrelenting factionalism have strangled the umbilical cord of a sport that gave India an image and Olympic identity.

It may take a long time to obliterate the horrors of London. It is time to think of rebuilding the game from scratch. Scepticism on this score is real given the parasitic hold of the officials over the administration.

Unfortunately, the unacceptable system of twin federations continues, enmeshed in a legal tangle. The remedy is in restructuring every sphere — administration, growth at the grassroots level, coaching and infrastructure.

It is a tall order, but difficult to ignore. It can be accomplished if all those claiming to run the administration now are kept away from the ambit. They have never been accountable for anything.

Is a mass movement bordering on a revolution the answer?

Do we need an Anna Hazare to cleanse hockey, nay, sport, in the country? It is time to ponder over such drastic measures.