Sunday, 24 July 2011

Is it time for Hockey?

3 Million $ prize, 178 Players, 40 foreign players from around 10 countries, a club structure. What does it sound like? Football, wait I am talking about India, then it must be Cricket. No its not Football neither it is cricket, it is the national game of India, one in which it has won a record 8 Olympic Gold Medals, yes it is Hockey.

The WSH-World Series Hockey after a long silence after its initial announcement in December last year is set to played in Dec and Jan this year. The Nimbus had a launch program in Mumbai recently and where it also declared to have reached an understanding with FIH and the participating players would be safe as opposed to threat of bans earlier. The sport minister is also trying hard to have an HI-IHF merger and if it goes through then things will start to go in hockey’s favor after a long time.

The WSH is set to have 8 Franchise based on IPL model. 6 teams location have been declared as metros-Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai and the 6th one is the Hockey powerhouse of India- Punjab (With Chandigarh, Jullundur & Amritsar as 3 locations). The rest 2 locations have to be decided from a shortlisted location of the left out metro-Kolkata, hockey’s second power location- Rourkela & cities and towns like Pune, Kanpur etc)

In the initial year the 8 franchise will play on Home and Away model playing 56 league matched followed by 2 semi finals and a best of 3 finals. This would mean a total of 61 matches

But for the real question will WSH help hockey make a comeback in India. What does WSH offer as advantages to Hockey in India? According to me the few advantages are
1.       Raises the profile of the game- Local players, foreign players, big money, big prizes, Investment at stake for Nimbus who would want a return. More high profile means more attention and more attention definitely helps to drive more accountability. That is the thing missing in Indian hockey. It will not happen in 1 year and we see a turn around, but if WSH continues for 10 years this definitely will happen
2.       High Salaries to Players- Hockey though the national game had very poor salaries. In recent times the salaries came to respectable level but it was nowhere near to cricket or international standards of Hockey salaries in Europe.  The WSH has good level of salaries in lakhs and it is not limited to just 15 players of national team, rather it has a depth. Each team will have a squad of 21 players with 5 foreigners. This means 16 players per team and 8 teams, a total of 138 Indians being paid a handsome salary. This will give depth of money for the first time.
3.       Large talent pool- As written in previous point a total of 138 Indians will be in the squad. This would give the selectors a large talent to select from. Since these players will be under public knowledge due to high profile tournament, hence it will reduce the incidents like bribing to be in team  since earlier the knowledge of local tournament was virtually 0
4.       Valuable experience of Foreign players- Presently Indian hockey is like a frog in well. Loads of tournaments with local players and same style of hockey being played all over. This has brought stagnation and hence over time India lost its edge.  Like in PHL, WSH brings in even more foreign players. Professional coaches, foreign players will definitely give Indian youth a lot of valuable experience. This would enable them to be aware of the styles used at other places and good things they can pick and counter them when they play in International games.
5.       Professional coaching and set-up- Unlike the local tournaments of hockey, in WSH the players will be playing for franchise where results would matter. The franchise will bring in best of coaching staff and performances and not approaches in HI or IHF will matter. This would bring the best out of players and we will see a great tournaments

There can be many other advantages too. I have my fingers crossed that the murky areas of Hockey should start to become clear in India now. Over time I would like to see this tournament even more expanded. As former Indian captain Pargat Singh had said, India would require somewhere around 600 Turf grounds for game to real have a mass appeal as well as sufficient supply of talent.

Over time Hockey in India should aim for 800 grounds by 2020. The path should be well defined. The private investment should be a way to pave for this number including the infrastructure. The Government alone cannot take us to this number. Initial 4 years should be building the base- Increase awareness and popularity of game, setting the basic infrastructure, then the next 3 years should be used for explosion. Rope in investors, have a massive increase in infrastructure and then finally last 2 years should be used for consolidation

Over time Grade B league should also start. These would be more limited to the specific regions and owned in franchise form but at a much lower costs and players paid on much lower contracts. For example if Delhi is a Franchise of WSH with Delhi, NCR as its target base, the Grade B league for Delhi can be 10 teams from vicinity like – Najafgarh, South Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Greater Noida etc. These franchises would create their local infrastructure and play tournament amongst themselves. The best players will have a chance to make it into the WSH. Local channels can be used to broadcast and local crowds can attend the matches. It is similar to the many Division 2 football leagues around the world.

2011- Start of WSH, 8 Franchises, around 60 Astro Turf Grounds
2013- 10 Franchises, 100 Astro Turf Grounds
2015- 12 Franchises, 160 Astro Turf Grounds
From 2011-15 the period of setting the base was formed. 14 Franchises and 160 grounds should help to raise the awareness of the game. After this the 3 years should be used for explosion

2016- 16 Franchises, 250 Astro Turf Grounds and 8 Grade B leagues with 10 teams each
2017- 18 Franchises, 400 Astro Turf Grounds and 18 Grade B league with 10 teams each
2018- 20 Franchises, 600 Astro Turf Grounds and 20 Grade B leagues with 10 teams each

After the explosion in teams, infra  the next 2 years will be for consolidation of game.

2019- 20 Franchises, 700 Astro Turf Grounds and 20 Grade B teams with 12 teams each
2020- 20 Franchises, 800 Astro Turf Grounds and 20 Grade B teams with 15 teams each

In the end we have 800 Astro Turf grounds, the required Infra for the game. With 20 Grade A franchise and 300 Grade B franchise and 800 grounds would mean that there would be enough opportunity for the youth to exploit the area of Hockey as a profession rather than using it as a entry point into the government jobs. This would do hockey a sea of good.

I know I take things too far, but if we do not dream how can we chase our dreams. Looking for some exciting times for Hockey and then I will update hockey on this blog too. Waiting for December for WSH.

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