Defying Hitler and jostling for Goering’s autograph

June 19, 2012
  • The Dutch broke his stick hoping to find a hidden magnet
  • The Japanese suspected his stick was coated with glue
  • Cricket legend Don Bradman gushed — “He scores goals like runs in cricket”
  • Adolf Hitler was so impressed with him that he offered him German citizenship and a post in the army

If an athlete’s greatness is measured by the number of apocryphal stories about him or her, hockey wizard Dhyan Chand is in a league of his own.

Before every Olympic Games, India indulges in nostalgia about its hockey heyday and revisits the folklore around arguably the greatest hockey player ever.

One such story is about the controversy Dhyan Chand and the entire Indian contingent created by refusing to salute Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

In their book “Olympics: The India Story” (Harper Sports), authors Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta shed some light on the episode.

“The Indians were the only contingent, apart from the Americans, to not perform the raised-arm salute as a mark of respect for the German chancellor,” they wrote in what is considered the first comprehensive book on India’s Olympic history.

“… it was a political act, breathtaking in its audacity, in direct opposition to most other contingents at the Games, including the British,” they wrote in the revised edition of the book which was released recently.

Interestingly, the authors also quote excerpts from Dhyan Chand’s autobiography “Goal” that paints a contradictory picture of the episode.

Dhyan Chand wrote in his book that Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and air force chief Hermann Goering often visited the Games Village.

“One day while we were in the dining hall, who should walk in but the burly Hermann Goering, clad in his military attire! We were after him in a trice to get his autograph. Later some of us obtained Dr. Goebbel’s autograph,” Dhyan Chand writes.

What is most intriguing is the overnight political awareness of the same bunch who went on to defy the world’s most powerful man on his turf.

Majumdar and Mehta find it significant that G.D. Sondhi, one of the officials accompanying the contingent, was deeply influenced by Nehruvian ideas.

“At a time when Britain was courting Hitler with its policy of appeasement … the Indian decision not to salute the Fuhrer, it seems, stemmed ideologically from the anti-Nazi posture taken by the Congress under Gandhi and Nehru,” they wrote.

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