With 12-15,000 people turning up every day for the hockey matches during the Gold Cup,the event was a resounding success. For a tournament that was mired in uncertainty till two days before its start,the interest from the local fans here was resounding.
For the game,though,the numbers are indicative of both the potential of Indian hockey and of the long road it has to travel before being considered high on the national popularity stakes.
Former India captain Pargat Singh,now learning the ropes as an administrator,said the Gold Cup had been a trial by fire. There have been organisational issues, Pargat,the sports director of Punjab,told The Indian Express on Tuesday. When you are on the field,you only think of playing. Outside the field,though,there are so many things that are beyond your control. Overall,there is a dire need to not only change peoples perceptions about hockey but also market the game better and convince authorities that the game is saleable, he added.
Sources in the organising committee said that the tournament was not shown by private satellite channels because they could not raise the 50-60 lakh required for production costs.
That was not for lack of sponsors but the procedural delays on the part of government officials. We had sponsors who were interested in the tournament and willing to pledge up to Rs 2 crores. But the files moved so slowly that it needed direct interference from the Chief Ministers office to ensure the tournament was held in time, one organiser said.
On the other hand,while the performance of the team was heartening this time,there have been issues in the past about the players travel and accommodation. The fact that there was no prize money for the event is also something that needs to be looked into.
More than passion
The players should get something,no doubt. However passionate you are for the game,at some point everyone needs to be assured that they are not slogging for nothing. Playing for pride cannot sustain your future, Pargat said,adding that though the German and Dutch federations settled for return airfare instead of prize money,future tournaments would have to see the players getting some monetary benefits.
Indian coach Harendra Singh agreed. I know things have been bad in the past. I have travelled with teams where four players used to share a small room. But Im hopeful that things will improve they have to if we have to compete with the best in the business. Sirf dal-roti ke sath aaj koi sportsman nahin khel sakta (A sportsman cannot play with only the basic amenities these days), he said.
Accepting the reality of modern-day sport may be a welcome step,but there are a lot of obstacles yet. Harendra and Pargat are in a minority,and many players believe the authorities who run hockey continue to live in a time warp. During our camps,one of the officials told us to remain grounded when we said that the diet we were getting was not sufficient, said one India player who did not wish to be named.
There is still a long way to go before we can compete with the best on equal terms.