Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Indian Hockey - up in the air

The Olympic hockey qualifiers are currently going on in Delhi. And Indian hockey, despite hopes and dreams, remains mired in dark, deep unfathomable politics. The men's team has defeated some of the low ranking teams (Singapore 15-1, Italy 8-1) but the real matches are yet to come.

A well laid out Major Dhyan Chand Stadium lies fairly empty while Hockey India (the selection board for the Olympics team) seems unperturbed. Several top players have been excluded and they, in turn, have decided to play the hockey league matches next month. The league matches are exactly at the time of the London hockey games camp (scheduled by Hockey India). This is probably just the tip of the strange hockey story.

The Women's team so far has drawn with Ukraine (1-1) and beaten Canada (4-1).

Anyway, this is always a nice game to watch even though it gets much less publicity and money than cricket. I am in Delhi now and hope to see some of the matches. On the way in, flying Air India, we were shown the film 'Chak De India'. Quite an unusual selection for the airline, but I was glad, for this remains one of my favourite films. It is a very un-Bollywood film on how a disgraced captain of the men's national hockey team chooses to coach the women's hockey team ("an army of demons") and the mayhem that follows. It is remarkably perceptive about all kinds of issues - sports in India, religious undercurrents, gender bias, social perceptions and more. It also succeeds in steering clear of gooey romances.

The title song "Chak de" (Lift it up) is often heard at Indian matches, more than the official sports anthems. I paste below a link to the song, which shows the women's team running all over Delhi and practicing for a match they may never get a chance to play. Interestingly, most of the women selected were neither professional players nor actors but they seemed to have been remarkably competent in both fields!


The film is motivating and one hopes that real life Indian hockey manages to swim through the murky undercurrents and rise to the occasion during the Olympics.

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