A good run for Indian hockey is a priceless development. The sadness of March 2008,when the Indian men failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics,still hovers. So Indias creditable performance in the Gold Cup was thrilling. They lost in the final to the Netherlands,but kept the Olympic semi-finalists on the defensive. However,the big revelation was not the resilience of the hockey team. It was the spectator enthusiasm. In Chandigarh,a city that struggles to get spectators to the world-class cricket stadium in nearby Mohali,they crowded into the hockey arena in Sector 42. On any average day in the four-nation tournament,the attendance was in excess of 15,000. Thousands came from cities like Amritsar and Jalandhar. And on final night,25,000 spectators worked up an informed cheer that kept even the casual television viewer interested. So,in a land where popular critique has it that only cricket fills up seats,the Dutch captain caught another message: This crowd proves that Indians love their teams,whether they play cricket or hockey.
Thank you,Jeroen Hertzberger. Thank you,Chandigarh. We forget it so often. We forget the geography of Indian fanhood. And we also forget how team sport is as much about those to play it as those to turn up to watch. After what turned out to be a keenly and closely fought match (2-1),Hertzberger said of the spectators: It motivates you to play really well,you feel like competing against so many people. You get to know you are playing well when the crowds go quiet. Those who know their hockey may not be surprised. Chandigarh borders the great catchment area of
Indian hockey,the towns and villages of Punjab. Hockey is pastime here,it is entertainment and livelihood,it is competition. The Gold Cups success should alert the federations that there is no contradiction in nurturing talent countrywide and taking the matches to places where the crowds are. Young children are drawn to a career in sport not just for the money,but also for the assurance that their sport matters. They need spectators,as much as they need playable astroturfs and modern coaching.
Here cricket may well show the way. The television rights driven commerce of cricket has progressively sidelined the spectator. In Tests especially,the spectator is incidental to the finances of the game. But for IPL franchisees,the ticket-paying spectator could be the difference between a loss and profit. For hockey to find its economic salience,it must take the right lessons from the Gold Cup.