Tuesday, April 23, 2024

World Series Hockey 2012: Winners and losers

Bridgestone World Series Hockey (WSH), played out in India during March and early April 2012, was run on an ambitious model with overseas players, city-based franchises and corporate and TV backing. Organised along the lines of Indian Premier League cricket, WSH was controversial from the start. It was branded as  ‘unsanctioned’ by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) who did not recognise WSH’s co-organisers the Indian Hockey Federation. As the dust settles, Deepak Sheth assess the impact of WSH.

Now that a highly successful tournament has been conducted and completed it behoves us to reflect back on how there is a monumental shift in the landscape of hockey that we all love.  Philosophers have remarked it is ordinary people doing extraordinary things that drive the world. All the fans of Indian style hockey, appropriately termed “magic”by coaches the world over, should be thrilled.

The histrionics, the number of goals, the excellent commentary, the flawless execution of a stupendous task, in eight cities, 59 games, wall to wall  primetime TV coverage, including cable channels even in USA, the stoking of parochial interest, as manifested by the throngs of crowds in cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bhopal, Bangalore, coming out to cheer their hometown team, as also their Indian expatriate brethren overseas, not even taking into account the eyeballs watching on TV, all over India as also Pakistan, Europe, Canada, Australia, US and many other countries, should warm the cockles of the heart of all hockey fans. 

But the absolute icing on the cake, is, in one fell swoop “by getting all the games on the internet on YouTube” for the world to watch absolutely free, along with use of modern social media sites like Facebook, and a fantastic WSH interactive website , the arrival of Indian Club Hockey on the big modern stage, similar to the other leagues with transcontinental following, but more cutting edge, more in tune with modern times, fast , furious, short, with flawlessly designed & executed media coverage, with appropriate use of newer technologies.

It would be inappropriate not to give kudos to the Nimbus outfit [Nimbus Sports – the broadcaster who organised WSH in conjunction with IHF] and CEO Yannick Colaco, and Mr Dennis Meredith and his organising team for an absolutely superb job. In times future, hockey fans the world over, will be eternally grateful, to them for bringing about a paradigm shift in hockey starting with the mother of all hockey countries India, believed by all to be vital for sustenance & well being of world hockey.

Maybe this may bring about a change in thinking of the FIH, whereby they may find it more appropriate and profitable to farm out the execution of their main tournaments to sub contractors like Nimbus or similar outfits & concentrate on being true guardians of the sport – advising, consulting and guiding.

Appropriate media utilisation is the only way to survive in the world sports landscape, particularly in this new fangled world of the internet, social media and free flow of information. And those outfits, like the FIH with their old-world thinking, nor their surrogates in India(HI/IHF/IH) or other countries, are woefully unfit to have the understanding how to navigate these uncharted waters. The needs and desires of a hockey fan in Timbuktu or anywhere else, are equally as important, as the wants of a player or a sports administrator, or an FIH official. Logic dictates that outfits like Nimbus as subcontractors, are at the cutting edge of this new format and should be on the frontline. It would be prudent for FIH to hedge their financial risks by making them so.

Here is an accounting of the winners and losers in order of merit or shame whichever way one looks at it:

Winner 1: World Hockey fan. Beautiful club hockey format, easy access, on demand coverage, excitement, short and sweet, mingling of different styles of hockey, exhilarating to watch, an adequate reward for selflessly supporting this sport through thick and thin.

Loser 1:  Selfish players.  Particularly old, multi-Olympians on the Indian national team, put to shame by their Pakistani counterparts, (who held the high ground in sticking to a contract signed, in spite of the consequences of Olympic deselection and potential ban from hockey) The Indians demonstrating without a doubt, that they do not care for their fellow hockey players by risking cancellation of the lucrative WSH tournament and their potential livelihood. It gives rise to the feeling they were more interested in a sweetheart deal of permanence on the national squad rather than risk competition from colleagues.

Winner 2: The commentary team. Michael Absolem, Ashley Morrison, Shehzad Haque, Godfrey Phillips for an absolute first rate performance in reflecting the excitement and thrill of the spectacle enfolding in front of them, for capturing the spirit of the game, for anticipating what is going to happen next and being correct, for reminding us that the one who describes the game is equally important as the game itself, for teaching the average hockey fans so much that, young players have been told to follow their comments to learn and advance oneself, for introducing us to a new lexicon in Hockey and the English Language like, “hard yards”, “injector”, “Route 1 ball”, all very, very succinct words to describe important plays in the match, words which I feel will be on the tongues of many for years to come. Welcome to the world of commentating on Indian club hockey, you “mates” are destined to carve out a great future for your selves on par with the great commentators of the world. FIH, please take note these blokes are superb and will definitely enhance our game.

Loser 2: The incompetent coterie of selectors of Indian national squads.  Old players who peddle influence and show an utter disregard for decorum and class by perpetuating on their fellow junior players the same fate that befell them and their lack of knowledge of modern hockey by discarding players that should be merited for selection ie Mahadik, VS Vinaya, Ravipal, Bharat, Lalit, Affan, and Vikram. Their sinister and unpatriotic behavior will be even more pronounced for the discerning World Hockey fan to see, when their selection performs much worse than those outside the national squad, (beauty being that WSH was seen by so many.)

Winner 3: Maazhi Mumbai (my Mumbai) hamara Bhopal (my Bhopal) concept: It is only the start of the unleashing of the power of hometown support in hockey. It is only a matter of time that the world will witness and know Rourkela, Amritsar, Bhilai, Anantpur, Jabalpur, Gwalior, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Kodagu, just like they know Barcelona, LA Lakers, Real Madrid, Boston Celtics, Manchester United, Pittsburg Steelers, or Dallas Cowboys, when they witness the huge crowds and the excitement of the home fans with the traditional Indian fun loving free spirit., that the world so admires — exemplified by the musical instruments & particularly the Indian dancing.

Loser 3: Hockey India: Administrators showing an utter callous disregard for the average Indian hockey player. They are the guardians of the sport in India and are not just there to play games selecting and deselecting the national team and exercising control on them with handouts and empty promises. The advancement of all Indian hockey players is their advancement – that should be their motto. The success of WSH has rightly given them a kick in the backside and hopefully will start their richly deserved eventual banishment from the sport. There is no place for such uncaring human beings as administrators of any sport.

Winner 4: Nimbus. For their execution, professionalism, understanding, modern management, you have put India amongst the big boys and have opened the eyes of the world – that the “Indians can do it equally well if not better” and reaffirming the impression that, for this new fangled technology – this internet and computers
– Indian brain power is essential, as is very evident in Silicon Valley.

Loser 4: FIH: It does not befit you, the guardians of the sport to play the “club vs country” card. This fact has been settled in many many sports to mutual benefit for the sport. Siding with one faction, Hockey India, smacks of interference into the local affairs of a sovereign country. FIH must be one of the rare guardians who would suppress “their subjects” from earning a decent wage and would be interested (by their actions) in subjecting “their subjects” to a life of perpetual misery as happened with Olympian Gopal Bhengra (and all he did was to sacrifice his life/livelihood to play for his national representative team).

Winner 5: The simple, selfless,unassuming,ordinary, hockey player. Particularly the hundreds who toil daily in a sport not as popular as others, where many wonder how they can feed themselves or their families, who wistfully look at the benefits their colleagues in other sports acquire, but who continue toiling because they love hockey and what they do. The Reardons, Walmikis, Rafiqs, Yadavs, Sutherlands, the multiple Singhs of the nameless faceless hockey world, must be thrilled  to be on world TV, to showcase their hard work and talents, moments of pride for their families to watch, memories etched permanently on electronic media to show their progeny, finally getting some reward and remuneration for their efforts in times gone by.

Loser 5: Cricket. Because its stranglehold on lives of countless would be Indian sportsmen would reduce and its corrupting influence(match fixing and gambling) lessen.

Winner 6: The aspiring player. The non WSH participating hockey player who can look forward to and dream to be on TV or be part of the excitement. Who knows how many new players will be added to the Hockey ranks from a half a billion under 17 population in India.

Loser 6: Commentators of Hockey at the Olympics & World Cup: Mr Christison – your days are numbered . You were too parochial anyway. Mr Ravikant –watch the competition behind your back or get with the program.

Winner 7: The standout players in the WSH tournament. Particularly AB Cheeyanna, (absolutely fantastic at right wing back) or VS Vinaya at the same position, or Ravipal Singh (who drove the Karnatak team) or Harpal Singh or his counterpart Ajmer Singh(laying to rest the lie that India did not have good defenders, a particularly obvious fact if they are kept out of  the India squad.) youngsters Lalit Upadhyay, crorepati Gurjinder Singh, Vikram Yadav, Affan Yousef, Devendra Walmiki, Sahir Mohd, Raminder Singh, and many others, for their superb performance,   all of them showing on national TV the shoddy work of the national selectors and their henchmen HI administrators, in denying some of them national selection, and confirming for all to conjecture, that selection on the national team is not really dependent on ability but extraneous & sundry factors including influence peddling , besides others like bribe taking that took down the IHF.

Loser 7 : IHF.  You and HI are birds of the same feather. You still demonstrate your old bad ways  by selecting certain players and omitting others – ie playing favorites. No reason in not selecting KK Bharat, Amit Rohidas. Influence peddling continues with a top heavy hierarchy with K P Singh Gill and Joaquim Carvalho having overbearing influence on micromanagement of any event like the WSH.

Winner 8: The infrastructure. There are obvious benefits of these first rate newly upgraded stadiums, with modern lighting and its potential for night games and their resultant increase in spectator friendliness. With the promise of this idea snowballing with obvious benefit to many, many hockey lovers, it is not far fetched to envisage a stadium in Jabalpur, built by local business to cater to their local fans, with a local team, with their resulting franchise benefits.

Loser 8: Certain old players.  On previous national teams particularly an old captain, who was shown to be in poor light in the WSH , a befitting reward for past misdeeds including going against his own team and causing divisions.

Winner 9: Dreamers. Like the present author, and hockey visionaries, like the Nimbus Heads – Colaco or D’Costa or Shahbaz Ahmed — for having the dreams and a vision of enhancement of Hockey in the sub-continent, so that the Syed Imran Warsi quote “I am not a terrorist” or the Pakistani WSH players who dared their association fiats —“We are hockey professionals we have committed no crime playing  hockey,” rings true. Or the rapprochement of lost brothers the Indians and Pakistanis can at least happen in the fields of sub-continental club hockey with its base of very knowledgeable fans, when a spate of clubs all play the WSH from Dubai to Lahore to Dhaka to Kuala Lumpur.

Overall there is no doubt that a powerful earthquake hit Indian hockey in the form of World Series Hockey – only time will tell how much rebuilding benefit it has stimulated – but it has certainly shaken things up.

Total Hockey


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