Friday, August 24, 2012
Unequal competitiveness promotes unhealthy, unfair and self-defeating ambition to win bronze, silver or gold
After independence, power gradually gripped the nation, both internationally and intra-nationally. Within India, callousness entered through the back door and slowly gripped power. Outside India, it was cleverness that handled power beautifully to see that India did not rise to its potential at normal speed. Our power holders in India played into their hands. The hockey administration toed the same line.
Hockey was beautiful in the days of Dyanchand until perhaps the late 1950s. Not because we used to win but because hockey was played with a certain level of craft and skill that was beautiful. The bully at the centre, also at the 25-line, had an element of chance founded on the capability of ball control. The penalty bully did give some chance to the defenders, if they were better at bullies. The dribbles, the dodges, the moves always had a certain charm about them. Asian hockey (Indian and Pakistani) was at the top. The west did not like it. They knew that their superior physical prowess could do nothing against the Asian artistry in dribbling and dodging and mind-boggling moves. They were simply rattled. So what did they do? They decided to change the very fabric of the game. Gradually, they succeeded in changing the playing conditions, rules and regulations and the very nature and spirit of hockey, which the Asians were unquestionably good at. Perhaps, they were unsurpassable.
The 25-line was moved to the 35-line. The dribbling space thus was reduced. The offside rule now applied at 35. The bully was removed. One more skill was done away with. If that was not enough, they introduced Astroturf. The shape of the blade of the stick was changed. Astroturf required very strong leg and calf muscles, and the smaller blade suited robust hitting rather than skillful dribbling. Changes in the short corner and penalty rules and replacing pushes with strokes encouraged a robust power game and crippled Asian hockey, which found it hard to adapt according to the new demands of the game because of physical disadvantages and various organisational and economic factors.
Now when India has a wooden spoon and Pakistan 7th position in the Olympiad 2012, it is time we took some strong measures. We should go back to promote our Asian style of hockey. We should play on hard surface or grass, bringing back the aesthetics of the game and stop playing power hockey on artificial surfaces. Dribbling, old-fashioned dodges and moves will automatically fall in place and the game will regain its charm and romance. The size of the blade must be restored to its earlier shape.
These measures will reduce the expenses considerably on having to provide Astroturf at the grassroots level. This will also take care of the needless and perhaps overambitious efforts to raise the fitness level of our youth to be able to grapple with the brute force and pace of the western teams. This will drastically cut down the expenses on physical training programmes. Physical training should be there only to facilitate acquiring the fitness level suited to our own attainable capabilities. We should play to our strength and not to theirs. We should play Indian hockey just as they play American Football or Australian Rugby. Wimbledon still has grass courts and it has persisted with an indefatigable will to preserve the grace of lawn tennis.
After all, the purpose of games and sports is to attain physical health through recreation so that balanced human personalities are developed. Competition is acceptable only amongst like contenders. Unequal competitiveness promotes unhealthy, unfair and self-defeating ambition to win bronze, silver or gold. No wonder some sportspersons take banned medicines and fail doping tests.
It might be argued that we have travelled a considerable distance in developing power hockey and it would be naïve at this stage to even think of giving up the challenge. If discretion is the better part of valour, it is better to give up the false challenge now than to continue to fail for years and years to come. We should look to the generation next, that is, the ten-year-old aspirants. They should be trained to treat and nurse hockey of the old Indian style.
India has acquired a significant place in the world economy. We are now able to dictate terms. India and Pakistan should organise their own World Cups and Champions Trophies. Let the west come and play on our grounds, in our style and see who wins!
The aim of sports and games is, I repeat, recreation, not crazy unequal competitiveness. Sports and games must be there to create and recreate and develop a sound body for a healthy mind and a healthy soul to take over and progress towards peace and happiness.
The writer is a retired professor of English and a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his twitter handle is @khaliqurrahman
The Daily Times