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A Historical Perspective (9/17/2007)
--K. Arumugam
Last Month Delhi based Hindustan Times serialized what it called 'HT's Hockey Campaign'. s2h editor K. Arumugam wrote the first of the six-part Series. The article is reproduced for the benefit of s2h readers. The designed c-colur page can be accessed at hindustantime.com epaper dated 27th August 2007.

The Beginning
When Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admirality, ordered Allies troop to open a third war front in distant Turkey, at Gallipoli precisely, he could not foresee his hurried war plan would end in what the historians call `The Inevitable Tragedy’.

But in the inevitable tragedy of the First World War lay the seeds of a heritage called Indian hockey.

Field Marshal Birdwood, Commander of British Forces in India, who had organized the retreat of ANZAC (combined Australia-New Zealand armies) from Gallipoli, proposed Indian Army’s hockey team visit to ‘Whites Only’ New Zealand in 1926 as a friendship gesture.

Our first ever foreign tour was Chake de for both. New Zealand made a profit of ₤300 even after paying India ₤500. Indian artistry mesmerized the Kiwis. Wrote Auckland Star: ‘Indians are a revelation…impossible to anticipate what the slim son India would do next with the ball’.

For the Anglo-Saxon lobby, which sulked at Frenchman Pierie de Coubertin hijacking the Olympic Movement, hockey opened up a new vista. A victory for a colony country would boost the Empire’s image. They did everything to realize this-- Activation of Indian Hockey Federation, global affiliation (1927) and an Inter-Provincial Championship (1928) to select the team. Huge efforts led to miracle – hockey could enter the Olympics theatre (1928) and strike the gold. The rest is history, the Chak de saga.

Hockey elicited no entry except India for the Los Angeles number. A global economic depression kept everyone away. The IHF president A.M. Hayman motivated Japan, gave them match practice by changing the sea route, and then convinced the hosts to enter the fray. With mandatory three teams, hockey survived the scare. Without Hayaman’s vision and mission, world would have missed the legendary exploits of Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh at Los Angeles.

The British officers were impeccably benign, unbiased, not cared the simmering Anglo-Indian protests, always projected natives as the team leaders. From hockey’s perspective, you tend to agree with Dr. Manmohan Singh who famously said at Cambridge University recently: “Britishers were benevolent rulers’.

Fund was the problem for the 1936 Berlin tour. The first Indian to head the IHF, Jagdish Prasad, managed the crisis with a quick collection Rs.11376 out of the required sum of Rs.45,000 from princes and royals. Prasad thus paved way for India to pulverize Nazi Germany on their way to golden hattrick.

Thanks to Birdwood, Hayman and Jagdish Prasad, a hockey foundation has been laid, and in the colonial era people at large thought hockey is the only game played at the Olympics!

The Growth
India was a free country when Olympics were resumed after the World War Two, but not free from financial hardships that haunted the adminos since 1928. Naval H. Tata (IHF president (1947 to 58) had to open his purse or use his persuasive skills with Prime Minister to send both 1948 and 1952 teams. His successor Ashwini Kumar went a step further, mortgaging his ancestral property to see our men at Melbourne Olympics.

No team returned without a medal as long as these two luminaries ruled our hockey, about three decades after Independence. Ashwini in particular asserted his authority in the FIH and it counted on our onfield successes. He was made to pay for India bringing a mere bronze and just a silver in two successive tournaments -- 1972 Olympics and 1973 World Cup. When Tata and Ashwini left the IHF even as they enjoyed electoral majority. What a noble days.

Then came the synthetic turf. Successive IHF bosses hid their incompetence under the new innovation that changed the spectacle of hockey forever – and for better. Was our Montreal Olympic fiasco -- finishing seventh -- due to synthetic turf? No. We were just a tie-breaker away from the semis, but failed.

The Moscow Olympics Gold, our record eighth, should also be seen in a broader perspective. Downgrading it to a depleted field won’t do. Even with all power houses of hockey in the fray, a new nation New Zealand won the 1976 Olympics, defending champions Germany was nowhere near the podium. Who knows, same could have happened at Moscow even without boycott?

If synthetic surface is the sole culprit for our downfall, how come India has been just a point away from the every Olympic semifinals since 1984. Exceptions are only 1992 and 2004. We were out of the 1984 Olympic semis by a whisker, but defeated Holland (5-2) for the fifth spot. Is the turf culprit for our draw against Poland at Sy

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