Indian Hockey's Tragedy - Unholy Trinity of Officials, Coaches And Players

Article by Mihir Vasavda, courtesy Indian Express. Photograph credit AFP

cratch the surface of Indian hockey and what you find is a derelict system where the coach isn't the real problem and his sacking certainly not a sustainable solution.

Autocratic Officials

One of the most bizzare stories that perfectly encapsulates the psychotic world of Indian hockey took place in winter of 2003. The late K. P. S. Gill, who ruled the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) with an iron-fist for two decades, was enamoured by the fitness of the South Korean players. The secret, one of his aides told him, lay in compulsory military service.

So almost overnight, 25 national team players were sent to the National Security Guard campus in Manesar, Hariyana. For 45 days, the players had to ditch their hockey sticks and learn to use AK-47s, while chief coach Rajinder Singh Sr and his staff would simply meander around the campus.

"We had to climb ropes and run on hard ground. Most of us had cuts on our hands," one player recalls. "It's the kind of training that makes you tough but it's not for athletes. You're one wrong move away from an injury."

The 25 were so frustrated that in fit of rage, they dared to rebel against Gill and left the boot camp. Before they could even reach the Hariyana border, they got calls from Gill himself. The order was straightforward: return or face action. The mutiny was quashed. And in an autocratic regime, the mindless military training continued.

Inept Coaches

Harendra Singh, according to hockey statistician B. G. Joshi, is the 51st time a coach has been appointed for the men's team since 1980. He is the crisis man of Indian hockey. As much out of choice, this is also out of compulsion.

According to Hockey India data, there are just 23 registered hockey coaches with a basic degree in the whole of India. Harendra is India's only coach with an International Hockey Federation (FIH) license.

If you wonder why the why the federation keeps on going back to foreign coaches, remind yourself of this statistic. Indian coaches are light-years behind modern hockey concepts. Sports technology hasn't reached many parts of India yet.

"When I played club hockey in Germany, each player was given a dossier on his opponent, which had everything - the kind of moves he makes, the mistakes he is likely to commit. We studied that and played accordingly," says Viren Rasquinha. Go to a club match in India and all you'll see is a coach standing on the sidelines and clapping his hands. No strategy, no tactics.

Back in the day, even the national camps were medieval. Sipping sugary tea from small plastic cups, the team meetings under Rajinder Singh Sr. used to be short, but hardly incisive. "He just told us, 'zor se khelna' (play with aggression)," a player recalls. Before the match? Zor se khelna. Trailing? Zor se khelna. Luckily for Rajinder, he was coaching one of the most gifted bunch so results, somehow, followed.

Unprofessional Players

Domestic tournaments in India are very shallow, with no team having an identity of its own. Because nothing magical really happens on the field, these tournaments are remembered for the fracas the teams are involved in rather than the matches. In the 90s, most umpires refused to officiate matches involving Punjab Police because of their behaviour on the field.

At the national hockey championships in Pune in 2013, five players from Namdhari XI dragged Railways players and a coach from their hostel room at Balewadi and beat the living daylights out of them. Their fault? They knocked Namdhari out of the competition.

It's an atmosphere of fear and trepidation, where junior players are smothered and voicing opinion is largely discouraged. It is from here that a player graduates to the national team. But by now, his capacity to think has been systematically demolished.

At the 2012 London Olympics, India have slumped to their fourth straight defeat, a 3-0 loss to the rapidly-rising Belgium. A player from the team, now recommended for Arjuna Award, is asked about the poor performances. "If you are so concerned, here's the stick - go and play the next match," he haughtily replies.

Moments later, the then coach Michael Nobbs walks up to this correspondent and fumes: "Before you ask the reasons for the team doing badly, ask your players why they refused to play."

The Indian players had staged a virtual coup during the Games. In their report to Hockey India, Nobbs and then physio David John stated that "a group of players from Punjab were more focused on themselves than the team".

Defender Gurbaj Singh along with former captain Rajpal Singh and Sarvanjeet Singh were the ringleaders. Players were asked to fake injuries, a bunch of them would mock others when the team lost, while most were jealous that Sardar Singh got all the media attention. Three years later, Gurbaj would be accused again of dividing the team - this time by assistant coach Jude Felix.

The environment got so claustrophobic while dealing with the unholy trinity of government, Hockey India and players that Indian hockey coach Michael Nobbs slipped into depression and developed serious health issues. Eventually, he quit the job and returned to Australia.

In 2015, during the Hockey World League semifinals, Belgian police raided the Indian team hotel and questioned skipper Sardar Singh for several hours for violent behaviour with a former England junior women's international.

For several years, rumours have been doing rounds of a young Indian player being pulled up for forcing himself on a housekeeping staff during a tournament in Netherlands. Recently, a member of the coaching staff was sent home in middle of a tournament for misbehaving with the hotel staff.

During the 2018 Commonwealth Games hockey competition, the relationship between two senior players had broken down to such an extent that former Hockey India president Narinder Batra had to intervene. One of the first things that the new coach Harendra Singh did was to change the room partners of every player.

Getting rid of one coach is convenient instead of getting rid of 10 players. Most India coaches have gone out screaming and kicking or have slammed the door hard on the way out. Disgusted with Indian hockey officials, Jose Brasa once said: "Monkeys, all of them monkeys!"

Harendra is in the hot seat for the fourth time. Unofficially, he's supposed to be there till the 2020 Olympics. In reality, he is just one tournament away from being shown the door.

This Rising Star Of Indian Hockey Came Up Without Knowing Hindi Or English

Article by Susan Ninan of ESPN India, Photograph by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

wo years ago, when Lalresiami of Mizoram was selected for the National Hockey Academy and then in the India u-18 Asia Cup team, she did not know a single word of Hindi. She used her most precious possession - not a hockey stick, or a medal or a family photograph - but a Hindi-Mizo dictionary, to help her negotiate the difficult world of the Indian national hockey team.

Fondly called 'Siami' by teammates, the teenage forward was one of the brightest spots in India's runners-up finish at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy in Donghae, South Korea. In a total of 31 minutes she spent on the field across five matches, Siami scored two goals, including the equaliser in the crucial final round-robin match, winning the tournament's 'U-21 rising star award' for her effort.

It wasn't an easy start for Siami, who began playing the sport in school. Originally from Kolasib, around 80 kms away from state capital Aizawl, she spent five years at the Thenzawl Hockey Training Centre in Mizoram before moving to the National Hockey Academy in New Delhi in 2016. "I didn't know Hindi or English. All I could say was my own name," says the 18-year old. "But now my Hindi is a little better and my teammates help me in breaking down words and understanding concepts. As long as they're talking about hockey I can try to catch up but once the discussion moves to other topics, I go completely blank."

The feeling that language was holding her back stung Siami the hardest during the Asia Cup in November last year. It was the team's first major tournament under former coach Harendra Singh. He'd reeled off a batch of instructions during half-time, unaware that the team's youngest member had not understood a word. "I'd told the girls to go for a full press (closing down all passing options for the opposition). Siami nodded, went into the field and did the exact opposite of what I'd asked her to do. We ended up conceding a penalty corner and I was furious. Once she came off the field I gave her a piece of my mind. It was only after the other girls in the team told me that I got to know that she didn't have a good grasp over Hindi."

To circumvent the language obstacle, Harendra, under whom she also played the Commonwealth Games, then started using bullet points and gestures to convey what he wanted her to do on the field. And she quickly latched on. "She's a very intelligent girl. When she doesn't understand something she'll just smile. That's our surest signal that we need to simplify and explain further."

Harendra picking out team captain Rani Rampal as her roommate also helped turn things around. "I think Siami has the best retackling in the team," says Rani. "Just seeing her work so hard pushes me to do even more. In many ways she reminds me of my own early days in the sport and joining the senior team when I was just 15."

As Siami swiftly picked up Gurjeet Kaur's dragflick that had rebounded off the goalkeeper's pads, and flicked it into the goal, watching it with a certain sense of pride back home was the man who foresaw the day -- junior women's coach Baljit Singh Saini.

"Very few players would have picked up that rebound like Siami did," Saini told ESPN. "I first noticed Siami on a visit to the National Hockey Academy in New Delhi two years ago. Because all she knew was Mizo, I got one the girls from her state in the senior camp to attend our meetings, sit beside her and relay to me what she said. I picked her for a couple of camps, after which she made the squad for the Under-18 Asian Youth Olympic Games qualifier and was one of my best players." India finished runners-up behind China in the tournament, with Lalremsiami scoring seven goals in five matches. "She's a fast learner and one of the very few strikers who's also a brilliant first defender. In every way she's a complete player and hopefully she'll again be a part of my squad for the Junior Women's World Cup."

Saini has great belief in the teen's future and he was in fact one of the first people she dialed after she'd learnt with disbelief and a faint heart of being picked for the Commonwealth Games. "During the junior camps I would encourage her to speak whatever little Hindi she could manage. It was hilarious but I had given out strict instructions to all the other girls to never laugh when she tried to speak. Most players from the north-eastern region are skillful and physically fit, but lack tactical knowledge. Language barrier holds them back from asking questions and that affects their growth in the sport. But Siami was willing to fight her biggest fear and that's what's brought her so far. I can tell you if she grows at this pace she's definitely captaincy material for the future."

These days, Siami refers to her Mizo-Hindi dictionary sparingly.

It's not to say that she's acquired complete mastery over a largely alien language. It's about her continuing to scale that high wall and making a difference in a team where no one speaks her language.

Scoops and Pushes and Hits and Dribbles - 4 Hockey Movies Releasing In 2018

leven years after Chak de! India released in 2007, sports movie fans will see a series of 4 hockey movies over a span of 5 months in 2018.

April 2018: Khido Khundi, which means ball and stick, is a Punjabi movie that traces the golden age of Indian hockey in which Punjab, particularly Sansarpur, made a major contribution. It also depicts the current scenario wherein Sansarpur has lost its sheen.

May 2018: Harjeeta is a biopic in Punjabi on India's Junior World Cup winning team captain Harjeet Singh Tuli, who is the son of a truck driver. Harjeet's success blended with hardships was portrayed by Punjabi singer and actor Ammy Virk in the movie.

The Junior World Cup triumph got Harjeet overnight fame. He went from a stipend job to a regular job of an officer in Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. He also got cash incentives to help him upgrade his family's humble dwelling into a decent accommodation. But perhaps his the most memorable gift is the upcoming biopic

July 2018: Soorma is a biopic in Hindi of hockey Olympian Sandeep Singh, who was injured by an accidental gunshot in 2006 and remained out of field for two years. He made a comeback and competed in the 2012 London Olympics.

Diljeet Dosanjh and Taapsee Pannu will star in this biopic. Chitrangada Singh is producing the film, which has been directed by Shaad Ali.

August 2018: Gold is a fictional story in Hindi that is set on the backdrop of true incidents of India's first gold medal after independence at the Olympics. Showcasing the historic victory of the hockey team at the 1948 London Olympics, the movie features Akshay Kumar in a lead role.

Gold is directed by Reema Kagti. Television actress Mouni Roy is making her big screen debut in this film.

Hockey Stick From Sansarpur Makes It To The Summit Of Mt. Everest

Article by Saurabh Duggal, courtesy Hindustan Times

unjab's famous hockey village Sansarpur (in Jalandhar), known for its hockey legacy with 15 Olympic medals won by its players, has now found its feet on the world's highest peak, Mount Everest.

Sansarpur's Col. Sarfraz Singh Kular, who is a fourth generation army man and a son of 1968 Olympic hockey medallist Col. Balbir Singh, led an eight-member expedition to the Everest. He took a hockey stick to Everest, hoping his feat would inspire the youth of his village to pursue the sport seriously and work on the revival of Sansarpur's rich hockey legacy.

"Being from Sansarpur, I have a close association to hockey. Though I didn't pursue it seriously, I did captain the hockey team of Indian Military Academy (IMA), so there is an emotional connect to it. Like any other Indian, I too want the golden days of hockey to be back again," says Sarfraz, 40, speaking from Nepal after scaling the Everest on May 19.

"A few years ago, when I discussed the idea of climbing Everest with my father, he told me to take the hockey stick along whenever I will go for the Everest expedition. I hope the Indian hockey stick on Everest will inspire the current crop of players to take the sport at the world's top level, where once we ruled," adds Sarfraz, who is a director of the National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (NIMAS) in Arunachal Pradesh.

On his return to India, he is planning to present the stick to Indian team to wish them good luck for future tournaments. "Once I am back in India I will present the stick to the Hockey India officials and will also meet the Indian team," says the Colonel. "This is the nearest point to God where I can pray for the revival of India hockey. Hope my prayers will work and we will make it to the podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics."

Colonel Sarfraz has climbed the highest peaks of four continents -- Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. "Now, I am planning to go to Antarctica," he says.

Sarfraz's grandfather was also a former Services hockey player and had fought in World War II. His great grandfather fought in World War I.

Indian Women Settle For Silver In Asian Champions Trophy Hockey

Photograph of the India vs. Korea pool match courtesy Hockey India

he 5th Asian Women's Champions Trophy hockey tournament was held at the Sunrise Stadium in Donghae City, South Korea, from May 13-20, 2018. The top 5 countries of Asia participated in the tournament - world no. 8 China, no. 9 South Korea, no. 10 India, no. 12 Japan and no. 22 Malaysia.

The Indian women, who won the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy and the 2017 Asia Cup, failed to continue their continental dominance, losing in the final of the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy. The second placed Indian women had the following match results:

Stage Date Result Goal Scorers - India
Round Robin May 13 India 4 - Japan 1 Navneet Kaur (7, 25, 55 min)
Anoopa Barla (53 min)
  May 15 India 3 - China 1 Vandana Katariya (4, 11 min)
Gurjeet Kaur (51 min), PC
  May 17 India 3 - Malaysia 2 Gurjeet Kaur (17 min), PC
Vandana Katariya (33 min)
Lalremsiami (40 min)
  May 19 India 1 - South Korea 1 Lalremsiami (49 min)
Final May 20 South Korea 1 - India 0  

The final standings were as follows: 1 - South Korea, 2 - India, 3 - China, 4 - Malaysia, 5 - Japan.

Though Japan finished last, that they did not send their full-strength team to the tournament. Many of the first team Japanese players featured in a Tri-Nations tournament (Australia, New Zealand, Japan) that was held at the same time as the Asian Champions Trophy.

The following were the tournament awards:

  • Player of the Tournament: Vandana Katariya (IND)
  • Rising Star (u-21) of the Tournament: Lalremsiami (IND)
  • (Joint) Top Scorer of the Tournament: Navneet Kaur (IND), Vandana Katariya (IND), Xiaoming Song (CHN)

The Indian team for the Asian Women's Champions Trophy hockey tournament was as follows:

Goalkeepers: Savita Punia (vice-captain), Svaati

Defenders: Deepika, Sunita Lakra (captain), Deep Grace Ekka, Gurjeet Kaur, Suman Devi Thoudam

Midfielders: Monika, Namita Toppo, Nikki Pradhan, Neha Goyal, Leelima Minz, Navjyot Kaur, Udita

Forwards: Vandana Katariya, Lalremsiami, Navneet Kaur, Anoopa Barla

Coach: Sjoerd Marijne

Photograph of the Month

Graphic courtesy Diljeet Sngh

he Photograph of the Month for June 2018 is of the poster of the movie Soorma, which is biopic made on the life of Sandeep Singh.

The caption accompanying the poster stated: "A hockey stick and a bullet. One gave direction to his life while the other changed it forever! Soorma - The greatest comeback story ever!"

The film is directed by Shaad Ali, produced by Sony Pictures, Chitrangada Singh and Deepak Singh, and stars Diljeet Singh in the title role. Soorma will release in the theatres on July 13, 2018.

Money Matters

he International Hockey Federation (FIH) has agreed a two-year partnership with award-winning digital media company Little Dot Studios for FIH content creation and distribution across digital platforms.

Little Dot Studios manages YouTube channels and social video for over 150 global television brands, broadcasters and sports rights holders.Hockey content will be activated on a global scale by Little Dot Studios' team of industry experts, using thousands of hours of existing content in order to extend the sport's reach.

Speaking about this, FIH TV and Broadcast Director, Andy Oram, said: "This partnership with Little Dot Studios represents a step change in the way we approach our digital broadcast strategy. By increasing engagement in our content and our reach across FIH digital channels, this partnership aims to generate millions more followers across the world."

Little Dot Studios Managing Director, Wayne Davison, said: "We are thrilled to be working with one of the planet's most action-packed sports at a very exciting time for the game. Together with the FIH, we have the opportunity to deliver the very best content for both hockey's loyal followers and millions more sports fans globally."

Media Matters

Article and Photograph courtesy The Hockey Paper

he History Makers, a brilliant telling of Great Britain women's Olympic hockey gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has been nominated for the Thomson Reuters Illustrated Book of the Year category in England's annual Sports Book Awards.

Co-authors Sarah Juggins and Rich Stainthorpe, who also work in the media department at the FIH, admitted to surprise over their nomination.

Stainthorpe said: "This was very much a dream project for us. We approached Chief Executive of Great Britain Hockey, Sally Munday, about this book project in the weeks following the gold medal win. Sally and everyone at GB Hockey backed us wholeheartedly, and we cannot thank them enough for trusting us with this."

The author also recognised the help of two of hockey's best photographers in helping to bring the book to life.

"The nomination is fantastic recognition not just for Sarah and myself, but also to our friends Frank Uijlenbroek and Koen Suyk. They are without doubt two of the best hockey photographers in the world, and their iconic imagery brought the whole project to life."

The awards will be presented at a star-studded ceremony, which takes place at Lord's Cricket Ground on June 7.

Visitor of the Month

he Visitor of the Month for June 2018 is Shiv's Coaching Academy, who sent their Developing Coaches and Players Coaching e-newsletter to The URL of the newsletter is: The current e-newsletter #7 contains the following core themes:

Tactical: How to connect the soft passes coming from the Primary Play Making Space (PMS) into goals

Technical: Developing specific techniques to score first time field goals via a mini hit or push on the run

Training Methods: How to develop a young hockey player into becoming a prolific goal scorer

Multimedia: Video clips supporting the core themes of this issue.

Fun With Numbers

Statistics by B. G. Joshi

he June 2018 edition of Fun with Numbers is on goals scored in the last 90 seconds of a match that resulted in a victory for the Indian men's hockey team.

Time Left In Match Year Venue Tournament Stage Result Winning Goal Scorer
1 sec 2014 Delhi Hockey World League Final 5th - 8th Placings India 5 - Germany 4 Rupinderpal Singh
10 sec 2017 Amsterdam India - Austria International N/A India 4 - Austria 3 Chinglensana Singh
11 sec 2015 Raipur India - Australia 3-Test Series 3rd Test India 3 - Australia 2 Akashdeep Singh
30 sec 1982 Amsterdam Champions Trophy League India 3 - Germany 2 Mohammad Shaheed
31 sec 1972 Munich Olympics Bronze Medal India 2 - Netherlands 1 Mukhbain Singh
39 sec 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Pool India 4 - England 3 Mandeep Singh
55 sec 2012 Ipoh Sultan Azlan Shah Cup League India 2 - South Korea 1 S. K. Uthappa
57 sec 1982 Melbourne Esanda Cup Pool India 2 - Netherlands 1 Vineet Kumar
69 sec 2002 Busan Asian Games Semi-final India 4 - Pakistan 3 Gagan Ajeet SIngh
87 sec 2012 Ipoh Sultan Azlan Shah Cup League India 2 - Pakistan 1 S. V. Sunil