India Insight

Catching them young to revive India’s glorious hockey past

It’s just after sunrise on a foggy winter morning in north India. Most people are snuggled up in quilts, but a group of teenagers with hockey sticks is out on the field. The ragtag bunch chasing a ball in Khera Garhi village, about 20 kilometres from central Delhi, shares a dream — to play in India’s field hockey team.

It’s an unusual dream in a country obsessed with cricket, but one that former national player Rajesh Chauhan hopes to foster among youngsters across India. Chauhan, 37, played for India during the second half of the 1990′s and set up the Jai Bharat Hockey Academy in 2011 to try to restore Indian hockey to its former glory.

India was a men’s hockey superpower in the last century, winning eight Olympic gold medals. Since 1980, the national team’s fortunes have declined.

Chauhan told India Insight that he hopes to discover the next generation of medal winners among his wards at the academy. He breaks off frequently to shout instructions to his students practising on the turf, which is nothing but muddy ground next to a road where trucks trundle past a telecommunications tower.

About 70 students, half of whom stay in a nearby hostel, have come from Delhi and its neighbouring states to hone their hockey skills. Some wake up before sunrise to travel to the academy, putting in several hours of practice before and after school.

Voluntary reform is the only way out for Olympic pariah India

The outrage has simmered down, cricket has cast its usual mammoth shadow and there are burning, more important, social issues to deal with.

No wonder, there is simply no trace of the gloom that had descended on India after the world’s second most populous nation was kicked out of Olympic family earlier this month.

And no sign of a way out either.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was suspended primarily because of government interference in its controversial Dec. 5 election and the sports ministry’s zeal to make its presence felt in every National Sports Federation (NSF) actually weakens India’s bid to get the Olympic ban lifted.

Defying Hitler and jostling for Goering’s autograph

    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.

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