Phir Dil Do Hockey Ko 2.0

06 Aug,2021

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorThe summer Olympics are in their last leg, and it has been one of the better editions for India, with the possibility of an all-time best haul of seven or eight medals at the time of writing this column. India won two silver and four bronze medals at London 2012, but the follow-up at Rio was filled with disappointment. Two medals came only at the fag end of the games, from PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik.

 

The stand-out India story from these Olympics has been the performance of both the hockey teams. The men’s team won the bronze in a creditable performance over two weeks. It’s the first hockey medal at the Olympics for India since Moscow 1980. And the Moscow games were heavily curtailed in terms of country participation on account of the Cold War.

 

Since 1980, it has been frustrating to watch the Indian team, in what is the unofficial national sport of the country, fall by the wayside, not just because of rise of other teams like Australia and Germany, but equally because of the administrative mess that all Indian sports except cricket seem to find themselves in, more often than not.

 

The last few years have been better, with some resurgence in performance, a younger team, and more intent from the federation. But hockey has slipped out of public attention, and there is absolutely no viewership or sponsor interest to speak of. It’s now well-known that both the men’s and women’s hockey teams were sponsored by the Naveen Patnaik-led Odisha Government, an unusual scenario in sports, to say the least.

 

Ormax has been tracking India’s most popular sportstars for three years now, and not once has a hockey player featured in the monthly Top 20 list. There were two attempts by Hockey India to take the league format in hockey. Both leagues struggled to survive, and the last edition was held four years ago in 2017.

 

Unlike some of the other sports in which India does well, like shooting (though the Indian shooting performance at Olympics at Rio and now Tokyo has been a letdown to say the least), hockey is a fairly watchable TV sport. But you need good, consistent performances by the national team to build media conversation and audience interest. And that has been missing all these years. Till this week, that is.

 

The story of the women’s team, which finished fourth this morning in a tight bronze medal contest, has been even more incredible. Till this week, the Indian women’s hockey team has never been a force to reckon with, struggling to qualify for the major tournaments, or finishing at the bottom spots when they could. Even at these Olympics, the first few games followed the same trend. But once the team scraped through to the quarter-finals, they got their big chance to get noticed. The 1-0 quarter-final win against Australia, arguably the most-fancied team in women’s hockey, will always count as a defining moment in women’s hockey in India.

 

In 2010, when the men’s hockey World Cup was held in New Delhi, the title sponsors Hero Honda crafted a memorable campaign that said ‘Phir Dil Do Hockey Ko’, using cricket stars to endorse the sport. But India only finished eighth in that World Cup. And that’s where that winning idea succumbed to the reality check of the team just not being good enough. The story is different now, and hence, the next 4-5 years can be very exciting for Indian hockey.

 

So, what do we expect to change? A lot, actually. The most obvious change will be sponsor interest in the sport, which in turn would lead to the resurrection of the hockey league in India. Once that happens, the sport will have a well-packaged audience window to exploit, much like Kabaddi has managed over the last decade. That should set the ball rolling. It’s now for the federation and our ever-interfering-in-sports governments to back the sport and ensure that the potential is indeed realised.

 

 

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