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Thursday, September 16, 2021

For decades, Indian hockey has bragged of past glory. Tokyo provides a glint of the future

Medal-less for 41 years in that one sport that they had so overwhelmingly dominated once, India finally drew a line from the past to the present. Tokyo can provide a fresh start to the game that has had its share of false dawns.

By: Editorial |
Updated: August 6, 2021 10:23:30 am
For the hockey fraternity, years of so-near-yet-so-far torments could find a release.

In the land of the rising sun, Indian hockey has moved from darkness to light with an Olympic bronze that has the glimmer of gold. Medal-less for 41 years in that one sport that they had so overwhelmingly dominated once, India finally drew a line from the past to the present. Since the last Olympics hockey medal in 1980, the country’s second-most popular sport, with a strong emotional connection with the masses, has been about wistful memories. For decades, hockey has been about bragging of past glory, and exaggerated tales woven around crumpled black and white pictures of wiry men in oversized cloth jerseys clutching medals or trophies. In the digital era, Indian hockey’s glory was a relic. All that changed in Tokyo as a nervous nation that had woken up early with a prayer on its lips was swept up by a wave of euphoria. Like Brazil, when they won the football World Cup in 1994 after a drought of 24 years. Or like West Indies, if it were to re-scale the peak of Test cricket. Or Roger Federer, if he were to conquer Wimbledon again.

For the hockey fraternity, years of so-near-yet-so-far torments could find a release. Failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics was the nadir, equally harrowing was the demolition it endured in the 1984 and 1988 editions, emerging fifth and sixth in that order. Or the heartbreaks — the 1-0 defeat to Australia in the final pool game in 1992, or the goal-less draw against Pakistan that blocked their entry to the knockouts in the subsequent edition. In Sydney, Poland’s 69th-minute equaliser in the last pool game snuffed out their medal hopes. The last-minute nervousness was to be a recurring theme. Sydney, London and Rio all reinforced the harsh reality that the best days of Indian hockey could never be recreated. There was fear that they could forever remain frozen in frames of the past.

Tokyo can provide a fresh start to the game that has had its share of false dawns. Multiple junior world titles promised that the sleeping giant was about to wake up but it would soon roll over into another slumber. A robust system, a global hockey league, state-of-the-art infrastructure and world-class support staff were in place but still the senior team lacked spark and success. The constant chopping and changing of coaches denied it continuity and consistency. The Class of 2021 can provide the template for the future. India, the financial capital of world hockey, can now proudly display an Olympic medal and a skilful young team with unflinching temperament. The hockey superpower of the Grass Era now can aspire to be the best on astro-turf as well. Tokyo could be the beginning of a dream, rather than a destination.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 6, 2021 under the title ‘Golden bronze’.

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