Great Olympian: India needs stars like Balbir Singh to revive hockey

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Published: May 27, 2020 5:20 AM

Cricket frenzy has taken over—the difference in how India’s national sport and cricket are perceived by the market can be gauged from salaries paid to staff in each sport.

Later, as the coach of the Indian hockey team, Singh helped India best Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup Final.Later, as the coach of the Indian hockey team, Singh helped India best Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup Final. (File image)

On Monday, India lost one of its most prominent sports personalities of the pre-cricket era. Balbir Singh Dosanjh breathed his last in Mohali at the age of 96. The new generation would recognise him from the movie Gold, which was based on India’s 1948 Olympic hockey team that defeated England to win the gold. Singh mounted the campaign against the British as centre-forward, and led the team to two more Olympic victories in 1952 and 1956. The Olympic record for most goals scored by an individual in an Olympics hockey final remains his so far. Later, as the coach of the Indian hockey team, Singh helped India best Pakistan in the 1975 World Cup Final.

Unfortunately, cricket has since replaced hockey in popularity. Cricket frenzy has taken over—the difference in how India’s national sport and cricket are perceived by the market can be gauged from salaries paid to staff in each sport. Last year, according to media reports, Indian hockey coach Graham Reid had demanded that the Hockey Federation pay Rs 1.35 crore per year as coaching fees, whereas the cricket team coach seems to command a salary of Rs 10 crore. In 2019, Hockey India had an income of Rs 101 crore, whereas BCCI, in 2016-17, had a revenue of Rs 1,043 crore. Although this is partly dependent on the successes of the hockey team—the last that India won a gold medal in an international competition was in the 1980 Olympics, and since the victory in 1975, we have never even reached the semi-finals of World Cup—government support has also waned. Corruption and scandals rocked Indian hockey for decades, with politicians getting plush positions at the helm of affairs. While that has changed, the least the government can do is work to make the sport popular again.

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