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News for 31 May 2020

All the news for Sunday 31 May 2020

Where does hockey sit as elite sport returns in England?

By Richard Bright

The Lee Valley hockey and tennis centre with its 'Union Jack' pitch

Elite sport can resume behind closed doors in England from Monday if certain guidelines are met, with the government announcing on Saturday that “the British sporting recovery has begun.”

The rules form stage three of the government process of bringing sport back from the lockdown after nearly three months with no action. Stage two allowed for close-contact training for elite athletes and was published last Monday.

People in England will be able to exercise outside, with up to five others from different households from Monday (June 1), on the proviso that strict social distancing guidelines are followed.

It means that a small number of people in sports teams will be able to resume fitness and conditioning sessions.

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments.”

Dowden said it was up to each individual sport to decide when to resume competitions, if a “forensic, clinician-led approach” is taken.

In hockey’s case, this has yet to be ascertained, given that the GB central programme is yet to resume training at Bisham Abbey and the hockey season not set until September. But this weekend’s announcement makes that prospect more of a reality for the senior squads.

For the time being, added Dowden, “Football, tennis, horse racing, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others are all set to return to our screens shortly.”

With some hockey clubs making pitches available for members and some remaining closed in the last week, England Hockey set out its clearest message yet on Friday on the potential timelines for the coming weeks – and for the 2020-21 season.

England Hockey said: “We would encourage our players, clubs and associations to interpret these as a guide and support and align to the work that will need to be done if plans change. At this stage it is not possible to make definitive plans.”

On Monday, England Hockey will move to the initial Step 2 process, with socially distanced training and small groups but with social distancing in place, with furher guidance set to be published on this. Step 5 will be a return to full competitive match play. As has been alerted by some THP readers, it is imperative that hockey players look at their club or individual insurance and liabilities during this time.

For the upcoming season, the national governing body has recommended clubs plan for the season as normal.

EH issued several options if the season is unable to start on time, including a later finish in the season, a streamlined calendar or splitting leagues in the latter part of the season. EH said it would review the current situation every three weeks.

As far as elite sport goes, there is still uncertainty as to when the Pro League can resume with travel restrictions still in place.

Referring to several top women’s sports either having league seasons decimated or the international summer curtailed, Dowden said that women’s sport would not be allowed to fall by the wayside. He said: “Visibility matters, and our daughters deserve to see female athletes on the main stage.”

If hockey had been in a similar position, the equality nature of the domestic game, coupled with the amateur status, it is likely that the sport wouldn’t have been affected, with the sport not reliant upon ticket income and a professional set up in the domestic game.

Still, much remains an uncertainty at the top end of the sport until the autumn, but with the dearth of top-level hockey could the prospect of a behind-closed-doors Home Nations event become a possibility, perhaps?

Come September, it is hoped that the landscape will be clearer.

With that comes the likelihood of GB’s central programme players – many of whom had contracts on the continent lined up – playing autumn (and beyond) internationals and missing out on domestic hockey. Again, time will tell.

Please help keep independent journalism alive in these uncertain times. With the media industry affected by advertising, we are continuing to offer our coverage free until we return in print.

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The Hockey Paper

HockAdemy urge MHC to give prize money to winners

By Jugjet Singh

HOCKADEMY issued a statement yesterday urging the organisers of the Malaysian Hockey League (MHL), which ended on Feb 22, to disburse the prize money to the winners as soon as possible.

The issue first came to light when HockAdemy questioned Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) over the prize money recently.

MHC replied, on Friday, that the delay was because of Covid-19 and they will need to convene an executive board next month before disbursing the prize money to teams.

HockAdemy are also unhappy with MHC competitions committee chairman Datuk Seri Anil Jeet Singh, who stated that only one team were making all the noise, while the rest understood the situation.

In a statement, HockAdemy said: "We see this as an irresponsible statement by the MHC which indirectly gives the impression that they are taking matters lightly and neglecting the well-being of the players.

"It indicates that the parent body can delay payments of prize money without strong reasons.

"It also paints a picture that most teams do not care if it is on time or late.

"And if the MHC have yet to receive the sponsorship money, we suggest that they forward their own money to settle the prize money first. Please, no more excuses."

New Straits Times

C of I and UCC awarded Munster titles as Pritchard and Catchpole look to the future

Cork C of I’s first team with Peard Cup they won in December.

Cork C of I’s men and UCC’s women were awarded the Munster Division One titles last weekend on a percentage basis having both run up perfect records in the top provincial competition.

For both, though, the abrupt end to the season meant both frustratingly missed out on the closing stages of EYHL2 and a shot at promotion back up to the top tier EYHL1.

Nonetheless, in the circumstances, both team’s coaches felt it was probably a reasonable outcome in difficult circumstances with no easy options.

For C of I, they had won nine out of nine Munster games, six points clear of Bandon with three matches left on their schedule. They were also assured of an EYHL2 playoff place with a game to spare as they endeavoured to make an instant return to EY1.

“It would have been lovely to finish the season unbeaten; we had a 100% record at that stage so if they were going to award anything, they didn’t have too far to look,” coach Denis Pritchard said, reflecting on the season.

“The playoffs of EYHL2 were the target before the season and we had set ourselves performance targets to go with that. When the chance of going to EY1 was gone by [Hockey Ireland] declaring the league null and void, it was nice to win the league but we have to do it all again now and are back to where we were.

“I don’t think Hockey Ireland had a lot of choice; how could they relegate some teams and promote others on two thirds of a season? The way they did it will piss off, probably, the least amount of people, only annoying the teams that were winning. The rest are no worse off than they were.”

Pritchard was thrilled with how his side bounced back from relegation with several new and returning additions to the panel making for a much more competitive panel at Garryduff as Phil, Rob and Stephen Sweetnam, Mark Collins and Eoin Finnegan bolstering the ranks.

“We had turned things around from last season in a variety of ways down to the number of people training and available for games. Standard of performance was better – albeit at a lower level – and we addressed a lot of what we needed. It all counts for nothing other than we know we can do it next year, whenever that starts.

“But it was enjoyable season; we only lost to Garvey and that was by less than a lot of the teams in EY1.”

Those good vibes extended into the second and third teams who completed a clean sweep of the Munster men’s divisions. Pritchard is on board again as head coach and is keen to make the best of the new normal, whatever that may be.

“As a coach, you are always planning. We will get a bit of notice [when we can return] and Hockey Ireland are not going to just say ‘you are back tomorrow’. We will likely get three weeks of notice, probably with certain restrictions.

“I know it’s not a contact sport but you can’t play without contact so social distancing would be impossible [without restrictions]. It’s also amateur sport and not like the Bundesliga where they can stay in a hotel for two weeks or things like that.

“Defending a corner on a Sunday and then back to work on Monday – it’s not viable. It’s difficult to manage but, in the scheme of things, it’s also probably not the most important thing.”

Pritchard has been approached to see if he would support a full-season men’s EYHL2 but his personal opinion is one of reasonable scepticism about the benefits for the local game.

“From a Munster point of view, there is very little benefit for an EY2. You multiply all your travel by four times while you still play the best teams in the competition anyway.

“All we would be doing is playing those teams more often and travelling away from Cork every second weekend.

“It may be no skin off the nose for a Dublin team because 80% of matches are on their doorstep. There was some surprise about that attitude because they thought I would jump at it because it would be better competition but I think EY1 is enough.

UCC LHC’s first team squad who Munster Division One

“The lure of it will drive EY2; there is a sense if you made it full season, some teams would be happy out and would think they don’t need to go any higher.

“And eventually EY1 suffers because the ambition to get there isn’t as great as it should be while the attrition rate for EY2 would be too high for what you are going to gain out of it.

“A lot of players would not play it if they had two small kids and were away every second Saturday which is fully understandable. At the moment, it is only one league which is putting those strains on people and the expense of it. It costs about €20 a head by the time you have petrol and a couple of meals on the road.

“If you are at the highest level, it’s different. But if the only option you have in Munster is EY2, you are going to lose players and won’t drive standards on it.

“That’t just my take on it and not speaking for C of I but is based on talking to players; there’s only so much you can ask of them.

“[Last season], we had to play five sets of back-to-back matches. You can’t play any midweek games; there’s a huge difference trying to play Saturday-Sunday and Wednesday-Saturday. It was not an option to us when we were in EY1. There’s a lot of things that tip the balance to Dublin teams.”

For UCC’s women’s coach Graham Catchpole, they were also within touching distance of the Munster title with nine wins from nine and a six point buffer to C of I.

“We would have been confident that we would have gone on to win the title,” he said of the local campaign. “We did have some very tough games like against Belvedere and Bandon in particular which went down to the wire. The girls will feel they did enough to win and hopefully just rewards.

“It’s really unique times and an unusual way to win the league title. Nonetheless, it is a nice reward for the work the squad have put in over the course of the season and it is nice to be recognised.”

In terms of the EYHL2 playoff hunt, they sat in third in their group behind Ards and Monkstown but still had ambitions – and a mathematical chance – of a late season tilt at a top two spot.

“When we sat down at the start of the year, that was certainly a target to get to the finals weekend. We had performed well in all those EY2 games and put ourselves in with a shout with two games to go. We did feel we owed Ards after they beat us up there and then had Queen’s away, one which we edged at the Mardyke so destiny was still in our own hands.”

Like Pritchard, he is intrigued to see what the future holds, particularly for college sides, when the dust settles and the return to play comes into sight.

“We don’t know how things will change for a college side. If learning goes online and college accommodation gets limited, you could see students stay at their family home in Limerick or Tipp or Waterford. Our squad at the moment is half-Cork, half-outside of Cork, so we don’t know what will happen there and it could lead to changes.

“The PE department have had regular meetings, teasing out what sport will look like in the future. Paidi Hartnett has the information there but the truth of the matter [like everything] is they have to wait and see.”

The Hook

Players eagerly awaiting resumption of hockey: Junaid

KARACHI: Pakistan hockey team's head coach Khawaja Junaid has said that his players are eagerly waiting for the resumption of hockey activities in the country.

While talking to 'The News' on Saturday, Junaid said that the players' home-based training will also resume since the Eid holidays have ended.

“Since the FIH has granted permission to resume hockey activities around the world, with instructions to strictly follow the SOPs, our players are also eagerly waiting for the PHF's green

light to resume activities in the country,” Junaid said.

The PHF is planning to organise training camps for senior and junior players in smaller groups of 5 to 8 players. The federation has also announced that it will hold a five-a-side domestic tournament in July.

The PHF secretary Asif Bajwa had also recently said that the federation is looking to gradually resume hockey activities from

the end of June. However, he added that they will not take any risks and will follow the government's guidelines in this regard.

Junaid said that he will request the PHF to allow the players to attend training camp for at least 15 days prior to the start of any tournament in order to avoid chances of injuries.

The News International

Roelant Oltmans "Pakistan Hockey Needs Major Overhaul"

By Ijaz Chaudry

Recently, Pakistan's former hockey captain and goal keeping great Salman Akbar posted an Instagram, a live session with legendary Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans, who had two spells with the Pakistan national team, in 2003-4 and in 2018.

He talked about the bitter sweet memories of the time spent.

Oltmans, one of the most successful hockey coaches in the history, guided Holland’s men to Olympics as well as World Cup golds, and their women to a World Cup victory.

During his first stint, Pakistan finished fifth at the 2004 Olympics, narrowly missing out on the semifinal spot; scored the highest number of goals with the biggest goal difference. They never finished above seventh at the Olympics since then. Pakistan even failed to qualify for 2016 Olympics and the next Olympics.

Before joining the Pakistan team in 2018, Oltmans was in India from 2013-17, in the role of performance director and later the head coach. During his time, the Indian team rose from No 13 to No 6 in the world rankings.

Where did Pakistan stand when Oltmans took over the team in 2018?

In June 2017, at the Hockey World League semi-finals in London, Pakistan team became a laughing stock. They twice lost to India, by 1-7 and 1-6, worst ever defeats against the traditional rivals. Even Canada humbled them 6-0.

Khawaja Junaid, the head coach was changed, with Farhat Khan coming as the manager/head coach. Pakistan finished a disappointing 3rd at the 2017 Asia Cup.

Worse was to follow at the 4-Nation Invitational Festival in Australia. Pakistan suffered their heaviest defeat in the international arena going down to hosts 1-9. Again, the manager and coaches were axed.

The first assignment for the new Hassan Sardar led management was a lowly 3-nation event in Oman in February 2018. Pakistan were once again defeated by Japan. Even the hosts Oman ranked around 20 places below Pakistan held the Green-shirts to a draw- finest achievement for Oman in their hockey history.

In stepped Roelant Oltmans whose first assignment was at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

He made an immediate impact. Pakistan ended seventh but there were a lot of positives. The Green-shirts remained undefeated throughout, achieving creditable draws against teams rated much higher. Mostly, they came from behind to draw level. Notably, it was after six consecutive defeats that Pakistan were able to hold India.

Oltmans wasn’t satisfied with the players’ fitness. On his recommendations, PHF attached renowned Australian physical instructor Daniel Barry with the team.

Next was the Champions Trophy's 37th and last edition.  CT was contested by the top-ranked nations.    As the 2018 edition was the last, the FIH extended a special invitation to the 13th-ranked Pakistan because they had introduced the Champions Trophy, and donated the trophy.

The other five countries were ranked among world’s top six. Some anticipated a repeat of the World Hockey League of 2017.

Pakistan finished last losing the 5th-place playoff in the penalty shootout but they were impressive almost throughout especially with their show against world's top three sides.

Against the then world champions and world no 1 Australia, Pakistan went down fighting 1-2. In the previous meeting Pakistan had suffered that unforgettable 1-9 humiliation. Green-shirts achieved a memorable result against the Olympic Champions Argentina (world no 2), winning 4-1. They held world no 3 Belgium to a draw.

The TV commentators and experts all opined Pakistan appeared transformed. Oltmans name was even considered for the Coach of the Tournament.

Importantly, the team displayed a structure. Everyone knew what he had to do in various situations.

Yes, there was a disappointment at the 2018 Asian Games. After winning all the five pool matches convincingly, Pakistan lost in the semifinal to the eventual champions Japan 0-1. 

However, under Oltmans, Pakistan were improving steadily and had started knocking on the doors of the top tier.

But in September2018, Oltmans quit the job. In a letter that appeared in the press he explained, "after long reflections on the past half year, I have decided to resign as head coach of the Pakistan Team. I’m responsible for the performance and the results of the team. But I feel that the circumstances at present don’t create an environment where we can get the best of the team. I don’t think the PHF has the possibility to change the circumstances to a level that is required from my point of view".

During his chat with Salman Akbar, and later with the scribe, Oltmans talked about his resignation and the maladies inflicting Pakistan hockey.

About the team selection, "There is no such thing called Selection Committee in any leading hockey nation. Head coach selects the team. He spends weeks and months with the players and is fully aware of their strengths: technical, physical and psychological. Then, he is also answerable for team's performance.

The selection committee in Pakistan comes only for a day or two to watch the trials. How could you assess the player in such a short time? Mostly, these selectors have their own agenda i.e. selecting favourite players

At times, it was quite frustrating. Once, the trials for the national team were scheduled in Lahore at 11am.  A couple of selectors were coming from Karachi. Due to fog, the flight got delayed indefinitely. I decided to utilise the time and engaged the probables in a practice session. Not much time had passed after the practice session when the selectors arrived from Karachi. They demanded the trials to be held straight away as they had to take the return flight later in the day. I protested about boys being tired but was over ruled".
The PHF's practice of selection committee is only a ploy to garner the support of former stalwarts.

The appointment of the current chief selector Manzoor Jr epitomises that. Manzoor Jr was one of the biggest critics of the PHF. A very well attended and well covered seminar at the Lahore press club in April 2019 was addressed by 10 hockey stars of different eras. Manzoor Jr, Olympic gold medal winning captain, told the seminar “the current PHF officials are inept and corrupt with no ability to control the decline. I appeal to the Prime Minister to take immediate action against them ".

A few weeks later, when the PHF approached Manzoor Jr to become the chief selector, he gladly agreed to join the 'inept and corrupt PHF'.

Oltmans also talked about the Hierarchical System in Pakistan hockey: "Respect of the elders is one good thing in the Pakistani culture, but it has no room in a team game like hockey. Many a time, I saw a senior player telling rather ordering the junior to pass the ball to him even though there were better options for the junior; and junior obliged. I vividly remember an important match in 2004. A junior player passed the ball to Nadeem ND, the Pakistan captain, on latter's asking though the captain was surrounded by five opponents. No need telling that such an attitude has a negative effect on the team's performance. Further, it hampers the junior players' development. His own thinking and decision making suffers. During physical training also, I have seen juniors performing the job of assistant to the seniors".

Lamenting on Pakistan's withdrawal from the FIH Pro League, Oltmans regards it as a great opportunity lost. "Pakistan were lucky to be selected among the nine countries and that too for four years. Scotland had agreed to host Pakistan's home games. All this had been finalised in July 2017 while the inaugural season of the PHF was scheduled to start in January 2019. PHF had enough time to work out the modalities. Yet, just 10 days before their first match, PHF withdrew the team citing financial problems.

It was a great blow to Pakistan hockey. They would have been a part of the top tier of international hockey. The players would have benefited immensely by playing against world's best teams".

He emphasises that Pakistan should follow the Indian model, "India had failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. They made it to the 2012 Olympics but finished last 12th.

Instead of opting for the then prevailing practice of going for some senior bureaucrat/army officer or former hockey great, a business tycoon Narinder Batra was made the President of Hockey India. Batra, using his business acumen, brought unprecedented sponsorship for Indian hockey, and turned Hockey India into a self-sufficient corporate body.

India's performance in the international arena showed constant improvement and now they are a medal contender at the next Olympics".                     

Coming to his resignation as Pakistan's head coach, "PHF wanted immediate results. I maintained there is no magic wand. The approach has to be 'Process Oriented' not 'Result Oriented'.  The Belgian and Indian examples speak for themselves. You also need to create similar conditions which the PHF couldn't. Still, Pakistan's performance graph was showing an upward curve.

PHF also disturbed my plans. Once, the announced camp was cancelled just one day before its commencement.

Moreover, my salary was often delayed. You will be surprised to know that I am still waiting for the salary for my last month work; 19 months have passed. "  

Something about Pakistan's current head coach Khawaja Junaid. He has been given the coaching role of national senior and junior teams a number of times since the turn of the century. Last time, he was shown the door after the World Hockey League in London 2017 where Pakistan lost twice to India, 1-7 and 1-6, and also 0-6 to Canada. Never, in country's history did Pakistan suffer so many humiliations in a single event. Later, Junaid too became a big critic of the PHF. He also came down heavily on Khokhar during the forum at the Lahore Press Club. But soon he was reappointed the head coach by the same Khokhar who had fired him just two years back reportedly with harsh words.

Junaid's first test on his umpteenth coaching appointment was the two test series in Germany in October 2019, Pakistan lost 1-6 and 2-6.

It was immediately followed by the all-important two match Olympic qualifier against Holland. Pakistan suffered a miserable 5-10 aggregate loss, meaning they will not be present at the next Olympics. Four time World Champion and three time Olympic gold medallists missed out for the second consecutive time.

But Junaid has not been replaced.

Only people like Manzoor Jr and Khawaja Junaid can work with such a setup- not a Roelant Oltmans.

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on hockey & other sports. For more about him and his work, visit: www.sportscorrespondent.info  


HI to introduce grading system for match officials

Uthra Ganesan

To improve umpiring standards and bring more structure to officiating, Hockey India has decided to introduce grading system for all officials, including umpires and technical officials. Tournament officials — technical delegates, umpire managers, technical officials, judges and umpires — will be divided into three grades.

While for Umpires the final score will be based on performance reports from all domestic tournaments, fitness tests and online tests, for technical officials the parameters will be the same without fitness tests.

The minimum (on a scale of 100 percentage points) for umpires has been set at 60 while it is 50 for technical officials. Umpires scoring above 80 will be included in Grade 1, 71-79 in Grade 2 and 60-70 in Grade 3. For technical officials, grading will be on similar lines except Grade 3 (50-70).

Eligibility criteria include u-25 for umpires (u-35 for rest), minimum two years experience in State and district championships. State units may send in nominations from July 1.

The Hindu

When we were Kings

Balbir Singh Sr and others such as him helped build the confidence of the newly independent nation by winning 4 gold and 1 silver in five Olympics

Indervir Grewal

Hand of God: Balbir Singh Sr, who passed away recently, led India to gold in the 1956 Olympics, playing in the final against Pakistan despite a fracture in his hand.

The world of Indian hockey is a world of legends. Starved of success and glory for decades, the Indian hockey fan cannot help looking back into the past to get that feeling of pride and joy. In Balbir Singh Senior, India lost one of its biggest sports legends. But even in death, Balbir Senior reminded the country of Indian hockey’s proudest era.

The recent retelling of Balbir Senior’s hat-trick of Olympics gold medals took the Indian fan back to that time when the country was unbeatable in hockey.

Eight-time Olympics gold medallists, India last won the title in 1980. Seven of the gold medals came from 1928 to 1964, including six in a row.

A star rises

If it was Dhyan Chand who was the epitome of India’s dominance before Independence, Balbir Senior became the face of Independent India’s initial successes at the world stage. In the 1948 London Olympics, Balbir Senior scored two goals in the final against Great Britain to help India win its first gold as an independent nation.

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Balbir Senior was probably at his peak. He scored three goals in India’s 3-1 semifinal win over Great Britain, before scoring a record five goals against the Netherlands in the 6-1 win in the final. He still holds the record for most goals by an individual in an Olympics final.

In the 1956 Olympics, Team India created history with our tournament score of 38-0 in all the matches we played, without conceding a single goal against us!
— Balbir Singh Sr

Four years later in Melbourne, Balbir Senior captained India to a “golden hat-trick”. It was not India’s first hat-trick of titles. India had won three straight titles from 1928 to 1936. And for his role in India’s first Olympics success, Dhyan Chand is considered the father of Indian hockey.

But with the 1956 triumph, Balbir Senior secured his legacy as independent India’s original golden boy. His goal-scoring statistics still leave everyone in awe. If it was Dhyan Chand’s wizardry — it is said that such was his control over the ball that the opponents suspected that he had a magnet in his stick — that captured the nation’s imagination, Balbir Senior became famous for his goal-scoring ability. It is said when Balbir Senior got the ball in the striking circle, there was only one outcome.

The many greats

However, Balbir Senior was not the only star of his time. KD Singh ‘Babu’ was considered as the next Dhyan Chand. It is said KD Singh could dribble past whole defences and make the most accurate of passes, all while being in full stride. KD Singh, who won gold at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, is as great a legend as Balbir Senior.

Balbir Singh Sr scored seven goals in three Olympics finals.

These players belonged to an era that seems so distant now that it is not possible to imagine them just as players. Whenever there is talk about India’s former greats, it is accompanied by a sense of idolisation.

Very few, if any, are alive who would have seen Dhyan Chand or Balbir Senior or KD Singh play at their peak. Fewer would remember what they saw. What is remembered is their statistics. All three of them were multiple Olympics medal winners and also prolific goal-scorers. That was one of the reasons why they stood out from the rest.

But it is not that they were the only multiple medallists. Udham Singh (gold in 1952, 1956, 1964 and silver in 1960) and Leslie Claudius (gold in 1948-56 and silver in 1960) were four-time Olympics medallists. They are the only two Indian players to win four Olympics medals.

Udham Singh (left)

In fact, Udham Singh was also considered a great goal-scorer. Claudius, captain in 1960, was one of the best mid-fielders. It is said that he considered himself to be a utility player, a jack of all trades. Incidentally, the same is said of Udham Singh. Then there was Randhir Singh Gentle who also won the triple in 1948, 1952 and 1956. Gentle even captained the team when Balbir Senior was absent due to an injury during the 1956 Games. But he will be remembered most as the scorer of the winning goal against Pakistan in the 1956 final. Among others who won two gold after Independence were Keshav Dutt (1948, 1952) Haripal Kaushik (1956, 1964) Grahanandan Singh (1948, 1952).

None of these players, though, could capture the imagination of the Indian fan as Dhyan Chand or Balbir Senior or KD Singh did. But even if many of the names have been forgotten over time, most of these great names played their part in inspiring generations of hockey players.


The modern game of hockey was brought to India by the British. Initially hockey became popular in major cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Lahore, and around Army cantonments. “It was a very popular game in the British army because of its team-building characteristics,” said Colonel (retd.) Balbir Singh, part of the team that won bronze at the 1968 Olympics.

Leslie Claudius

“Initially, the army played a big role in spreading the game to the villages. Hockey also became a way to recruit people into the army,” added Col Balbir, one of the many Balbirs who followed Balbir Senior into the Indian team.

When India won their first Olympics gold medal in 1928, the sport caught the nation’s fancy. Two more gold medals in a row gave the people a reason to feel proud and great. The hat-trick made Dhyan Chand a household name. But it was probably the next three consecutive gold medals that helped ingrain the game into the country’s DNA.

Nation’s pride

The time after Independence and Partition was filled with uncertainty. But when the Indian team won three gold medals from 1948 to 1956, it became a symbol of Independent India’s bright future. “As our National Anthem was being played and the Tricolour was going up, I felt that I too was flying with the flag,” Balbir Senior had later recalled of the 1948 victory.

Haripal Kaushik

By the time India won their seventh gold medal in 1964, hockey was “running in the blood” of the nation. And India had new idols like Charanjit Singh and Prithipal Singh, who both won gold in 1964. Prithipal, who also won silver in 1960 and bronze in 1968, became the most popular face of the new lot. Prithipal was known as the ‘king of the short corner’, and it is said that such was the power in his shot that facing him in a penalty corner situation was like facing death.

To the current generation of players and fans, though, Dhyan Chand, Balbir Senior, KD Singh, Leslie Claudius or Udham Singh are probably just names that represent great achievements and unbelievable records. Hockey has travelled so far that it would be impossible for the current generation to even relate to the game or the achievements of the golden era. However, the role those hockey greats played in the journey of game in India — building up the confidence of a nation that had just emerged from the shackles of colonialism — can never be forgotten.

Prithipal Singh

Hall of Fame

Udham Singh and Leslie Claudius share the record for most medals in hockey in the Olympics — 3 gold and 1 silver each. Balbir Singh Sr, R Francis and Randhir Singh Gentle won 3 gold each, a feat Dhyan Chand and Richard Allen had achieved before Independence. Haripal Kaushik, Keshav Dutt and KD Singh were among players who won 2 gold each. Prithipal Singh won 3 medals, one of each hue

Learning from the legends

“Hockey was so popular in some states that it felt like the sport ran in people’s blood,” said RS Bal, who played for the Indian Navy for almost 10 years in the 1960s and 1970s.

“As children we did not get to see the India players, but we heard and read about the gold medals and about the greats such as Balbir Senior, Leslie Claudius, Prithipal Singh. Even though we never saw them play, they were inspirational to so many of us,” added Bal, who grew up in a small village in Amritsar district.

Balbir Singh Sr with Dhyan Chand (left)

Then there were those who got to meet their idols. Ajit Pal Singh, captain of the 1975 World Cup-winning team, remembers watching Udham Singh train at the village grounds in Sansarpur. “To watch an Olympics gold medallist train was a big source of inspiration,” said Ajit Pal Singh.

And for people like Ajit Pal Singh and Col Balbir, observing the greats was the primary source of learning. “There was no specialised coaching, no academies,” Col Balbir said. “Everyone came to play in the village grounds. The retired players used to teach us. We used to learn by watching the senior players train, and usually there was an India player visiting on leave,” he added.

The Tribune

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