Does Indian hockey’s redemption lie in grassroots approach?

The Sports Authority of India deserves kudos for rolling out four players of the current 2012 Olympic team. Bharat Chetri, VR Raghunath, SV Sunil and SK Uthappa‘s contribution to the hockey team that made it to the 2012 Olympics cannot be undermined. These Karnataka players are all products of the SAI (Sports Authority of India) schemes.  They have been trained rigorously under the guidance of SAI and worked their way up from there.  Their performance at the qualifiers emphasizes the quality of craft that they picked up from SAI.  Definitely ample evidence of the good work SAI is making at the grassroots level in the state.

Equipped with a solid training regimen, SAI is making rapid strides in churning some top hockey talent.  With a single point agenda as hockey, SAI is producing gifted hockey players. Their program picks out 54 boys between 14-21 years of age from NSTC (National Sports Talent Contest) and ABSC (army based). Their skills are then constantly honed through major leagues and tournaments.  Chetri, Raghunath, Sunil and Uthappa are examples of SAI’s schemes. Going by the looks and talent of it, promoting hockey at the grassroots level seems to be the way up for Indian hockey.

With SAI’S training on the right track, the equipment remains a sore subject. When you compare it to the equipment at the national camps, we are far behind in quality.With just a paltry budget of Rs 4, 000 per player, India could provide so much better for its national sport. The current national team sports four players from SAI while the current Olympic camp has five others from SAI – Nitin Thimmaiah, Pradhan Somanna, MB Aiyappa, MG Poonacha and VS Vinaya.

Looks like SAI could produce more quality players? So why is India falling short at the highest level? Maybe it time for the Indian Sports Ministry to sit up and take notice?

SAI has the potential to breathe some life into the sport, but it is an obstacle race for them as far as equipment and better budgets are concerned.  Considering hockey is India’s national sport, the negligence and apathy to it is a crying shame.  Need of the hour? Shift our focus from cricket to its more needy cousin – hockey.

India certainly has the talent and has made their mark in the international scene before. If they are expected to do what they do best, which is play hockey, the country should at least spare them the trauma of having to scrabble in paucity.

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