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Legends Plainspeak in a rare seminar on hockey: Ye (3/16/2005)
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Our players are not more skillful than the top Europeans” asserted Brigadier HJS Chimni, star of gold winning 1975 World Cup team. “Artificial turf is not the reason for our downfall”, thundered triple Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh Sr. “Where are the role models to inspire the younger lot?”, asked Ashok Kumar, son of legendary Dhyan Chand, who also scored the winning goal in KL 30 years ago. Controversial coach Rajinder Singh urged the former Olympians to form a parallel body to guide government and SAI on hockey matters.

In a rare brain storming seminar, organised by the Federation of Indian Games, of which Ashok Kumar is the president, the legends of past poured their heart out in New Delhi on Tuesday. There were no tongue lashing at the IHF, but lot of introspection. Besides the hockey legends, a wide spectrum of personalities connected with the sport of hockey participated. FIG Secretary and journalist Rajendra Sajwan informed that this seminar is second event under the FIG banner to mark the anniversary of 1975 World Cup win. “We organised a 1975 World Cup Heroes Vs Indian Women Team match at Shivaji Stadium last year”, he said. The seminar this time was timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of KL victory.

The seminar opened with a brief note by Sajwan who, indicating the late start, said jovially, "this shows how much we are serious about hockey". He also left a seat vacant on the dais for a dignitary who is a habitual late comer. All India Radio commentator Shivendera anchored the function with timely and sharp interludes. First to speak was Lt. General M.S. Bhuller, Chairman, Organising Committee of recently launched Maharaja Ranjit Singh Hockey Tournament. Gist of speeches of participants are given below:

Lt.General M.S. Bhuller (Chairman, Maharaja Ranjit Singh Hockey Tournament): To make tomorrow bright we don’t need 50 years more. We have everything with us to achieve everything. Presently, we have about 20 teams at national level another 15-20 in the second rung, which means about 700 players. As a country can’t we look after them properly? We need 16 good players for the Olympics. After each Olympics, 8 or 9 players retire or need to be replaced. Our duty therefore is to find suitable replacement for them in four years time. Is it a big task? To start with, Government of India should have a dedicated budget for hockey, build 10 synthetic grass grounds every year. This might entail Rs. 50 crore a year, strictly speaking a pea nut for the government. Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India, should devise a Monitoring Mechanism to supervise and streamline the activities of the Indian Hockey Federation which does not seem to have a clear vision on how to promote hockey. IHF selection policy is wrong. We often hear, some players will never be in the playing eleven but will never get out of team 18. IHF should form a think tank and take their advice. In every country, national debate precedes the selection of national coach but in India coaches come from nowhere and no accountability or fixed tenure for them. IHF should rank the players and teams to induce competitiveness among them. We invited national Champion teams of Pakistan and Malaysia for the Ranjit Cup recently. They felt the standard of domestic hockey being so high ‘India can send two good teams to Olympics’. What we need now is vision.

M.P. Ganesh (Executive Director, Sports Authority of India, and former World Cup captain): He spoke on role of Government in promotion of sports hockey in particular. A Scholarship Scheme to reward prospective players has been in vogue since early 70s, players like Jude Felix were among the beneficiaries. Government also rewards winners of State tournaments for different age categories. 50% of the cost of synthetic turf is borne by the government but not many takers. So far 8 turfs have been laid with the help of this scheme. Government also meet the expenses relating to boarding, lodging, medical, insurance and kit for the Indian camp probables and coaches and umpires are regularly sent abroad for training. Government also bears all costs of Indian teams’ international exposure tours; air fare for training cum competition trips twice a year. Sports Authority of India runs Centre of Excellence, SAI Training Centres and NSTS schemes. In all about 1460 players are thus adopted by the SAI, each player incur an expense of Rs. 20 to 40, 000 a year. There were 8 players from these SAI schemes in the victorious 1998 Asian Games team. Winning Olympic Gold is not easy. England won the first in 1908 and it took another 80 years for them for the another gold. Their 1988 team that won the Gold at Seoul played together for nearly 8 years. Continuity is the key to success and the government is committed to support National Game hockey.

Padamshree Satpal

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