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PM scores a morale-boosting goal for Indian hockey (6/12/2008)
--K. Arumugam
Prime minister Manmohan Singh meant to cast no aspersions on cricket when he revealed he was no devotee of the game. He was only voicing the feelings of millions of people, the 'aam admis', as politicians with an eye on votes describe them, a class of people among whom there is little fervour for the so-called religion of cricket. These masses, less articulate than cricket fans, are drawn more to games like hockey and football.

It was the first time our economist prime minister disclosed his special preference for hockey, choosing to do so on the occasion of the release of a book by Balbir Singh Sr, triple Olympic gold medalist and one of the all-time great Indian centre-forwards after the era of the game's legendary super icon, Dhyan Chand. It was on a day when the cricket fans were looking forward to the IPL final at Mumbai.

Maybe the PM was left untouched by the exciting last ball finish past midnight, even if his grandchildren kept awake to watch it all.

Old centre-forward Balbir Singh, at a well preserved 84 and at least eight years senior in age than Manmohan Singh, was greatly moved when, turning to the sports minister, he expressed the hope that M.S. Gill's ministry would do its best to promote the game of hockey.

Hockey, you can bet, is the game our PM must have played with boys of the village school of Gah in Pakistan where he was born and had his early education. Hockey must also have been the game everyone continued to be interested in when he migrated to the Indian part of Punjab. The sporting youth of those days grew up hearing of the exploits of generation of players like Balbir Singh.

The prime minister's advice to his sports minister must have come as sweet music to the ears of the nation's hockey fans, still in a depression following the Indian team's failure to qualify for the coming Olympics.

But perhaps the PM is not sufficiently aware of the ugly feuds in the country's hockey administration. The Indian Olympic Association has disbanded the Indian Hockey Federation headed by K. P. S. Gill and appointed a five-man ad hoc committee in its place to oversee the administration. But if the cancellation of the Indian youth team's participation in a four-nation tournament in Poland is any indication, confusion continues to reign.

In the blame game following India's failure in the Olympic qualifying tournament and even much before that latest catastrophe, K.P.S. Gill's head was demanded so that players could manage the affairs of the game. But not a single member of the ad hoc body is known to be a former international player. Meanwhile, K.P.S. Gill had taken the matter of his dismissal to the court.

Old players like Balbir Singh, who have helplessly witnessed the painful decline of Indian hockey, still feel they have a role to play. After his playing days were over, Balbir Singh, at the behest of late President Zail Singh, who was then Punjab's chief minister, took over the responsibility of coaching the Indian team for the 1975 World Cup. Not even the illness of his wife and the death of his father could move him from his duties at the Chandigarh coaching camp. Balbir had his reward when India lifted the word cup at Kuala Lumpur.

India's hockey future, Balbir believes, lies in the schools. He will endeavour to see his book, 'Golden Yardstick: In Quest of Excellence', placed on the shelves of school libraries, at least in his state of Punjab if not all over the country. In the meantime it is a good omen that the prime minister has scored a morale-boosting goal for Indian hockey so desperately waiting for someone to lead a renaissance.

Courtesy: K. Datta is a veteran sports writer

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