Hockey gets Olympic boost

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For a change, hockey is in the news for all the right reasons. Hockey has become a buzzword all of a sudden. India’s crushing win over France in the final of the Olympic qualifiers seems to have brought the game into public consciousness.

Believe it or not, hockey took precedence over ricket on the sports pages of all national dailies the day after the sterling show.

Indian hockey lurched from one humiliation to another ever since the country failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Those who thought that the Olympic fiasco would cleanse the game in its spiritual home were proved horribly wrong.

First, IHF’s secretary was exposed in a TV sting operation. Then the creation of Hockey India pushed the game into the brink of administrative disaster. A raft of court cases paralysed the functioning of national, state and district units.

Even as HI and IHF traded punches on a daily basis, women’s hockey plunged into chaos after a few players alleged sexual misconduct by their coach.

Not to be left behind, the men’s team stuck work, demanding financial rewards just before the 2010 World Cup.

India’s poor performance at the World Cup doused the hopes of resurgence under Spanish coach Jose Brasa.

Losing to Malaysia in the Asian Games semifinals in the same year was another blow delivered on the already fragile body of the national game.

Australian Michael Nobbs was a brave man as he took up the challenging task — regarded by many as a poisoned chalice — of becoming India’s coach in 2011.

If the triumph at the Asian Champions Trophy portended a fruitful future under the stewardship of Nobbs, India’s qualification for the Olympics has fulfilled that promise.

The Aussie must be given credit for galvanising the team ahead of the qualifiers and his faith in youth power.

Missing out on another Olympics would have had disastrous consequences for the sport, which had already been reeling from a host of problems.

Hockey is on the highway to extinction in schools and another spell on Olympic wilderness could have spelt doom.

At the risk of sounding a party-pooper, a few points must be made. The celebrations that followed the 8-1 demolition of France is, ironically, a telling reflection of the country’s standing in international hockey.

The eight-time Olympic champions are cock-a-hoop on just making it to the Games. Dhyan Chand must have turned in his grave upon hearing the raucous jubilation on earning the right to play the Olympics.

Medals at the Olympics can wait because taking part itself is an achievement for the most celebrated hockey nation these days. It is the reality, which may be indigestible for those brought on the glory years of 50s and 60s.

India’s reasonable goal at the Olympics must be a respectable finish because they are nowhere near the level of top teams such as the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Spain and Great Britain.

It must not be forgotten that India had lost to Australia by eight goals in the final of the Commonwealth Games in 2010. India haven’t beaten a higher-ranked team in recent days.

Nobbs doesn’t have a magic wand to conjure up a medal for a country which hasn’t reached the semifinals of an important global event since the 1975 World Cup.

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