It was 1975, the last time India lifted the Hockey World Cup Trophy. Since then, it has become a wait of almost half a century to feel that energy again and a dream living in the hearts of the true fans. The good news is that the lost game is finally back on the fields of the country that had once seen immense height globally through it! When India was announced as the host country for the “2023 Men’s FIH Hockey World Cup,” the deep-rooted dream bloomed again, and Naveen Patnaik, Odisha’s CM, is no less to be credited for this beautiful revival.
Hockey, one of the oldest modern games to exist, was first introduced in India during British Rule in the 1850s. Gradually, the game captured the attention of the younger generation, which ultimately led to its popularity in the country, having large fields and open spaces to be played on. With the formation of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in 1924, came the permanence of hockey to be added in the Olympics. The Indian hockey team participated and grabbed the gold medal in the very first game of the 1928 Olympics. It was then, the beginning of a golden era. The Indian team dominated the field of world hockey with the rise of Dhyan Chand, one of the greatest hockey players the world has ever witnessed. His legacy continued, and India went on to win eight gold medals, a record till date.
After the 1970s, India’s domination seemed to be in danger and hardly managed to strike a gold in 1975. It was a decline caused by both external and internal factors- the change from grass to astroturf (artificial grass) was one India couldn’t adapt with the changing times. Despite this, the men’s team, taking advantage of the depleted field, won the eighth Olympic gold at the 1980 Moscow Games.
Meanwhile, the women’s team had also emerged and was doing quite well. However, these were the final years of the golden period, and after that, everything became stagnant. Players dropped, coaches were changed, and India struggled to regain its position at the global level. It was an arduous period for both men and women’s team as they felt shortage to make it to the semi-finals of the international events, eventually restraining themselves to just bronzes and silvers. The scenario worsened when the men’s team failed to even qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which led to a huge setback.
41 years of this dormancy finally broke when the Indian men’s team entered the semi-finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The medal drought ended with a bronze, and the achievement was doubled by the women’s team’s historic appearance in their first semi-final match. Hockey was breathing again. Thus, revival is what people knew had crept in and would be chanted from here on.
This revival is not a sudden outcome but the result of years of groundwork by the teams, a resolute journey toward betterment, and the admirable strength offered by the pillars around them. The pillar that stood the tallest has to be Odisha’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik. The CM, with his deep interest in the game, took on the sponsorship of Indian Hockey in 2018 when all the national sponsors of the team had pulled back. He rescued the national game from fading away from the sight of the countrymen. With funds, infrastructure, all the basics were developed and provided from the very root by Odisha. The state proved to be the “second home” for the players. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this initiative filled in a new life and brought the game back its glory in times like these where the crowd apparently is crazy after cricket and football.
The Government of Odisha continues to extend its full support, and now what lies ahead is the 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup, an addition to the process of revitalisation. The 15th edition of the game has already begun as of January 13, 2023, taking place in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. There is excitement surging among the hockey fans as India kicked in the enthusiasm winning the first match against Spain. The Chief Minister, who was there to witness the thrilling performance, tweeted “I am sure spectators will experience finest hockey during World Cup 2023. Let’s celebrate the spirit of hockey as Hockey comes Home” and he also congratulated the Indian team for their amazing win.
There is indeed a long way to go for the Men and Women in Blue to make this revival a historic example of belief and hard work. Looking forward to the ongoing World Cup, it doesn’t really matter at what rank India will end up because, after all, it’s a sport where one wins and one loses. What truly matters is not letting this spirit die which the CM of Odisha envisaged while putting his efforts and the Odisha Government’s attempt in bringing back hockey to the nation’s field and in its people’s hearts.
Sania Parween is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Moneera Aiman