Liberal Opinion: FIH Hockey World Cup: Why Odisha? Why not Punjab?

What is wrong with Punjab? What are  the factors that prevent it for not opting to host the FIH Hockey World Cups for Junior Men and Men? Can Punjab help India regain its lost supremacy in hockey? Will Punjab Government come forward to sponsor major FIH  events, including Pro League?

These are some of many questions put forward to me by journalists, sports fans and hockey enthusiasts. “Why you confront me with these questions. Ask Hockey India!”, is how I try to wriggle out of such situations. 

An ardent hockey fan  went a step ahead. He says :”Punjab government once took upon itself the onerous task of training the national hockey team at a time when the Indian Hockey Federation was in a major crisis. Mr Ashwani Kumar, who remained at the helm of hockey affairs for a long time, had decided to step down hours after he got a rebuff from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But then it was Punjab Government led by Dr Giani Zail Singh that offered to train the Indian team for the 1975 World Cup team at Panjab University campus in Chandigarh. Rest is the history.”

The point is well made.

If Odisha Government can do it twice, why not Punjab? Odisha has played host to two consecutive editions of the FIH World Cup for men in 2018 and again in 2023. It has constructed world class hockey stadiums – Kalinga in Bhubaneswar and Birsa Munda in Rourkela.

The question baffle us all. Two days after India went out of the medal contention in the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, Mr Gurpreet Toor, who recently superannuated from Indian Police Service, asked me the same question. Accompanying him was  sports promoter Balwant Singh of Kamalpura who has done yeoman service in promoting sports at the grassroot level.

My answer to them all has been : “Yes, Punjab can do it”.

Let the Punjab Government take a policy decision and start in right earnest in preparing the grounds for holding the mega events. The ultimate goal should not be holding the World Cups but to replicate what Dr Giani Zail Singh did in 1975 – get India back on the victory podium, both in juniors and seniors.

The task has to be worked out with dedication and sincerity.

Spending money lavishly alone will not help the cause of hockey alone. Planning and money have to go hand in hand in consultation with a Core Committee of hockey experts who should oversee the execution of the “Gold for Hockey” plan.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann, who claims to be an enthusiastic sports fan as he can reel out names of sports stars in different sports, recount results and talk endlessly about what is going on in the world of sports, should convene a meeting of knowledgeable hockey enthusiasts – players, officials, critics and promoters – and assign them a task of making a blue print.

Punjab can make a bid for first holding the FIH Punjab Junior Men’s World Cup in mid 20s and then the FIH Punjab Men’s World Cup in 2030.

Before offering to be the hosts of these mega events, the State has to do its homework well. It should set up a task force to hunt for talent from grassroots level. Going by physical standards that go well with hockey and belonging to the 8-13 years age group should be chosen for systematic grooming and training. Punjab had done it before. The team of Pargat Singh and Sukhvir Singh Grewal did it in the last decade. As a result, if more than 60 percent players in the current Indian teams are from Punjab, it is because of their meticulous planning and execution of grooming and training schemes.

The Punjab Government in consultation with Hockey Punjab should across all political and personal affiliations in constituting the Hockey Task Force so that the talent is groomed and Punjab throws up world beaters on the lines the Australians or Europeans do – fit, agile, skilled, mentally strong and hard core professionals who think, eat and sleep hockey.

At the same time, the FIH requirements for holding the mega events have to be met in a time bound manner.

Punjab has synthetic surfaces in all important and major cities like Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala, Faridkot and SAS Nagar. There are some cities that have more than one synthetic surfaces. Added advantage is that Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, too, has an exclusive hockey stadium and an additional synthetic surface at Panjab University camps. It is the same ground of Panjab University where the 1975 World Cup team trained.

Adjoining Haryana that has of late emerged as nursery of women hockey – Shahabad Markanda – can also join the “Gold for Hockey” campaign with its resources and synthetic surfaces in the hockey congruent zones.

To make sure that hockey trainees get regular change, exposure to competitions and sufficient competition-cum-training facilities, a long term plan will be drawn by the Hockey Task Force by involving all coaches, sports psychologists, sports medicine experts, dieticians, physical conditioners and also spiritual or yoga experts.

Once a long term or a minimum 10-year Plan is worked out in consultation with members of the Task Force, the work should start in the right earnest. Speeding up work on the requisite and ultramodern infrastructure, too, should start simultaneously. Since, the State is dotted with  exclusive hockey stadiums, all they need is upgradation, new surfaces and training facilities.

Punjab has all. It has talent, it has resources, it has infrastructure, it has overwhelming support of its Diaspora and the biggest of all, a huge name in hockey. So it is time for the Punjab Government to wrest the initiative and put everything together and  get going. Mission “gold for Hockey”  should get ready, set and go.

(Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience of 14 years with Reuters News and 30 years with The Tribune Group, covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows.)