It was a Sunday evening, and I was at the Shivaji Stadium in New Delhi to watch one of the matches of the Hockey India League. This was in 2016.
As I took my seat in the stands, I witnessed a lot of innovations introduced to the game. Matches played under floodlights, players wearing bright-coloured kits, as many as 20 cameras, super slo-mo and state-of-the-art graphics, similar to the revolution brought by the shortened Twenty20 form of cricket. Lets say the broadcasters had come a long way in revolutionising the sport, bringing TV audience more close to the changing room of the players.
But something was still amiss. Yes, It was the lack of an atmosphere, lack of a larger audience. With the stadium so empty, it was hard to imagine that India were once world beaters.
Fast forward to 2017, I was at the Hockey Stadium in Chandigarh this time, to watch the Hockey India League Semifinals. It was no different, again a lot of nonvocational setup for the TV, other than than, not much had changed – the stadium was still not full.
As someone who has sat between audiences to watch India play 12 International Tournaments at 12 different locations – all in one year, it was disappointing to see such a low turnout for the Semi Final match. Even FIH Player of the year Naomi van As who was attending the match, was overheard saying, that, she was expecting to see a jam packed stadium.
It was surprising to see such a low turnout, specially considering that the last match that was played in Lucknow where the Junior World Cup was hosted, had a House Full Audience. Player families, friends and fans travelled from world over to cheer and support their favourite players.
From the times of Roop Singh to Balbir Singh Sr. to Mir Ranjan Negi, Hockey was India’s pride. Just like Australia has produced the world’s greatest cricketer, India has produced the world’s greatest Field Hockey Players.
Veteran Sports Journalist maybe of the opinion that Hockey – the sport does not grab much attention because India does not win enough medals. But i believe, like any other successful venture, Sports other than Cricket, needs constant care and attention. I feel Indian Hockey athletes deserve respect for the time they put into training and the athleticism they display in their sports, whether they win or lose.
The lack of attendance at Indian Hockey games also plays into discrimination from Sports Media and Broadcasters. There’s sort of an interesting question in the sociology of sports around the idea, Is Hockey less popular because people don’t go to them and they don’t get Media Coverage or do they not get enough Media Coverage and people don’t go to them because they’re less popular?
This chicken-or-the-egg dichotomy poses an issue because it becomes difficult to determine the most effective way to increase popularity of this Sport.
This sport has a glorious heritage in India and I do believe that it has a tremendous future. In a country which produced more Hockey legends world over, we need to pay more attention to this sport and give it respect and support it deserve