‘Getting money for junior hockey is a tough task’

March 10th, 2008 - 10:22 pm ICT by admin  

By Avishek Roy
New Delhi, March 10 (IANS) The day of mourning is also the time for introspection as to how hockey has fallen from lofty heights to such abysmal depths of failing even to qualify for the Olympics. Former players, officials and pundits are talking about going back to the grassroots, but what many seem to miss is the problems at the grassroots level.

Ask Shiv Kumar Varma, secretary of the Nehru Hockey Society, which has been conducting tournaments in the capital for almost four decades.

He is so disappointed that it takes him some time to find words. “It is a sad day. Winning eight Olympic golds is not a joke, and today we have even failed to qualify for Beijing Games. This is the last thing that we needed for the game,” he says.

Then he adds, there are too many problems for which a solution cannot be found overnight.

“The grassroots level should not only have more tournaments, but the budding players need proper grooming. They are lost in the transition. Most of them are from the lower middle class families and their priority is to get jobs. Once they get a job, they lose interest in the game. They need to be given more incentives so that they can focus on the game.”

The Nehru Hockey Society organises five age-group tournaments for seniors, juniors, sub-juniors, college and a separate one for girls. And Varma has problems getting sponsors and funds each year.

Yet, despite his advancing years, he keeps at it, operating from the small office tucked in one corner of the Shivaji Stadium right in the heart of Delhi’s business centre Connaught Place.

Asked why the federation does not chip in with money from its sponsors and grants — Varma says the federation has its own problems.

“We do not ask them for money as the federation is busy round the year arranging for national team’s coaching camps, tournaments, exposure trips and it has problems funding its own activities. ”

Even as he narrates his tale of woe, there is an eerie silence in the stadium with no-one playing the game there. Even otherwise there is little activity unless some tournament or the other is held during the season as the National Stadium has the other turf in the city is undergoing renovation.

So, the moot point is does anyone play hockey at all? If they do, are there enough synthetic turfs for them?

And now this result in Santiago could well deal the game a huge body blow. As media and former players lash out at the Indian Hockey Federation, sponsors will shy away from the game.

Scratch the surface and buried deep within are problems galore.

Hockey at the grassroots level has been left undernourished for years. Hockey has failed to attract the youngsters. Not even the glamorous Premier Hockey League has managed that.

The youngsters are occupied with cricket and its glamour, but why blame them. “It is on TV and youngsters get jobs playing cricket,” says a senior official working in the same office.

Sponsors are hard to come by. Hockey simply has no takers.

Talking of the tournaments Nehru Hockey Society organises, Varma says, “we spend around Rs.500,000 (Rs.5 million) for these tournaments but it is very difficult to raise that money. Getting sponsors is a difficult task. The government gives some grants and we manage somehow thanks to our sponsors SAIL and ONGC. It takes a lot of hard work to organise these tournaments.” he says and adds that they need to work through the year to raise that money.

The winner of the senior tournament at Nehru Hockey gets Rs.350,000 while the junior champions takes home just Rs.250,000.

Varma admits it is a small amount. “Each winning player gets just Rs. 12,000 or so. There is no money flowing into the game. How will the players get the facilities and motivate themselves.”

He says the number of tournaments at school and college level has come down. “Where is the money for them,” he asks.

Then there is the problem of synthetic turfs. “Most of the players play on a synthetic turf for the first time when they come for our tournament and then they go back and practice on gravel or grass grounds.”

Yet, Varma is optimistic and says the silver lining at the end of the dark tunnel is that there is immense talent in the country.

“I see so many junior boys from schools participating in these tournaments. And they are very talented; there is no doubt about it,” he says before making another call to a prospective sponsor.

Hockey has been living on hope all these years. Now it needs more than that.

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