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A Brilliant Analysis by IHF Chief KPS GIll (9/17/2007)
--KPS GIll
in Pioneer Newspaper
Save hockey in real life

The film Chak De India has emerged as the runaway success of the year, and the credit must certainly go to those who participated in its making. In part, however, that credit must be shared by the sport of field hockey, and the unique place it has in India's imagination. While other, more elitist games, secure much of the support and sponsorship that makes for high profile projection in the media, it is hockey that captures the true spirit of Indian sport. It is here that one finds, to borrow Dryden's words, "God's plenty". At the selection trials for the Under-18 Probables held on August 30 at Gurgaon, for instance, 41 boys were selected from across the country. No other sport in India can boast such diversity.

This has been a tremendous advance over past decades, when sports administrators had converted the National Game into a parochial fiefdom focused on just two or three States, dominated overwhelmingly by Punjab. Today, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), with tremendous support from the Sports Authority of India (SAI), has engineered a tremendous resurgence of hockey, with players from States as far apart as Manipur to Punjab to Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu, coming into the national teams — and, crucially, the national mainstream. The unifying, binding, power of this game is infinite. Crucially, it inspires and mobilises the very constituencies that have been neglected and forgotten by virtually everyone — certainly everyone in the corridors of power. The boys we selected at Gurgaon included sons of daily labourers, subsistence farmers, tribal foragers, mofussil clerks, petty shopkeepers, some of the poorest of the poor in India. These are people who have, through their childhoods, suffered from nutritional deficiency and from almost every form of deprivation we can imagine, and it is difficult for us to even conceive of the circumstances under which they have learned to play and excel in hockey.

In rural and tribal areas, hockey is most often played without even the most rudimentary facilities, with curved branches used as sticks, an improvised ball, and on any rough ground that is more or less flat — and it is played in these circumstances by children in the numberless thousands, unseen and unsupervised. Hockey — for all the modesty of resources we commit to the promotion of this sport in India — has lifted many of these children out of poverty and anonymity, and has taken them into international arenas where they have held their own against players of the 'First World' — rich, privileged, trained and moulded by the very latest research, techniques and technologies that money can buy. In the recent Eight-Nation Junior Tournament held in Germany, the Indian team — interestingly, with players drawn from as many as nine States — drove immediately to Holland and played Holland, the eventual winners, in two 'friendlies', one, a day after their arrival, and the second a day later. In the first match the team lost 3-2, in the second, they drew even. I discussed this performance with a number of specialists conversant with the effects of air travel on the body, and they were amazed that the team could play at all, leave alone play so well, immediately so soon after extended travels. Thereafter, they went on to beat Poland, Spain and Germany, three of the top teams in the world. This, by any standards, was an outstanding performance, and one that a particular European observer attributed solely to the 'great advances' in tactics among the European teams. What few people know is that Indian Hockey is, today, run on an annual budget that is a small fraction (barely a tenth) of the cost of Chak De India; small European clubs invest more in the game than this country does; yet the national team has consistently maintained a position in the world's top eight, and junior and sub-junior teams have lifted many an international trophy.

As many as 31 Indian youngsters are currently in Germany, attached to an array of local clubs, and it is through devices such as these that the IHF manages to give its teams at various levels maximum exposure to the game at international levels, as well as to new techniques and technologies, better standards of living and nutrition, and the personal experience of new worlds and cultures that instil greater personal confidence and create the character and will to engage in contests at the cutting edge of international sports.

There has been much recent talk of adopting the 'Cuban model' for sports development in India. What is not understood in such perspectives is that sports does not exist in a vacuum — you would have to adopt the Cuban model for the country before you can apply it to one system within it, and I doubt if there are many in India who advocate the political and administrative systems that prevail in that country. Cuba, in any event, with a popul

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