Op-Ed: No politics please on national game tag for hockey

The political motive is all too obvious. But that should not be a reason to oppose Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s demand for National Games status for hockey. It is a perfectly legitimate and sensible demand given India’s glorious history in hockey and the popularity of the game in the country. More importantly, the National Game tag could provide just the kind of fillip that Indian hockey needs to win back its place at the top of nations playing the game.

Unfortunately, hockey has always been the poor country cousin to cricket, which has a huge following in the country. No wonder cricket has received all the attention and money while hockey and all other games have suffered because of the dearth of resources. Diehard cricket fans may argue that the bat-and-ball game should get National Game status. But that could well be a case of oiling the already oiled. Notwithstanding the ugly controversies over the last few years, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has shown that it can do without government support. In fact, the governing body of cricket has been able to resist all attempts to usher in some much needed reforms in its functioning – even going to the extent of defying the Supreme Court appointed Committee of Arbitrators (CoA) headed by Vinod Rai – precisely because of its financial heft. With no possibility of the craze for the game waning in the country in the near future, cricket will certainly not need government support to flourish.

But hockey certainly needs it. The National Game status would surely provide a huge fillip to creation of the necessary infrastructure, training facilities and a comprehensive national programme to unearth and groom hockey talent from the grassroots. It will also bring in the private sponsorship that it lacks at the moment. Once India starts winning international tournaments on a regular basis, the fan following for the game will increase too. Just one successfully organised World Hockey League (HWL) and Bhubaneswar is already being talked about as a hockey hub in India. And that without having National Game status. Just imagine what such a tag could do to the popularity of the game, not just in Bhubaneswar or Odisha, but across the nation.

There are at least two games that can legitimately vie for the National Game status: football and badminton. But India’s current poor ranking in football rules the Beautiful Game out of contention. A spate of successes in the recent past courtesy the exploits of the likes of Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kadamabi Srikanth bolsters badminton’s claim to be considered for the tag. But its case is weakened by the fact that it is not a team game in the sense that hockey – or football, for that matter- is. And in a country as vast and diverse as India, only a team game should get the coveted status.

As a major cradle of hockey talent in the country, Odisha certainly stands to gain in terms of better infrastructure and facilities if hockey gets the Centre’s nod as the National Game. With the required funds at its disposal, the state government could take the game to places other than Sundargarh where hockey is a way of life. This, in turn, would produce more players who could vie for a place in the national team.

Now for the politics part. The BJP and the Congress are opposing it saying it reeks of politics. But doesn’t the same hold good in their case too? Since neither of them is opposed to the demand per se, their criticism can only be attributed to politics. Should hockey be denied its due place just because Naveen might reap some political benefit out of it? If that is the concern, no one is stopping the BJP from walking away with all the credit by according National Game tag on hockey.

If nothing else, the Chief Minister should be complimented for mainstreaming the issue. His letter, in fact, was a revelation for many who had taken the National Game status for hockey for granted. Though an RTI query had brought out the fact that hockey had not been formally notified as the National Game as far back as 2012, most people were under the impression that it had official status as the National Game.

Union Sports me minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathor, himself an Olympic medal winning sportsperson, has said hockey is already our National Game and doesn’t need a formal recognition as one. But why not, one may ask. The formal conferment of such a status would, at the very least, remove the sense of neglect and apathy our players currently wallow in and give them a sense of pride, which could do wonders to Hockey India’s performance at the international stage.

Let us not deny something rightfully due to hockey for political reasons.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)