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When Hockey shadowed other sports in India

Cricket is the reason other sports in India do not get its due. Why do investors put their money on cricket and not in other sports? Why is it that, cricketers are treated like VIPs when compared with other athletes in India? Why are cricketers in India well paid? Why do they get excessive media attention? Why do politicians and businessmen express their intent to associate with cricket?

Ironically, circa sixty years ago, in the 1950s, the above paragraph worked well by replacing cricket with hockey. A lot of us in India know about how the legendary stories of eight gold medals, and how Indian hockey team dominated during pre-independence and a decade after the independence – but few of us can imagine, hockey at that time was a big deal. Agreed, the broadcasting standards and media streams were different, nevertheless, one cannot overlook the fact that hockey dominated the news in the early years of independent India.

How many of us remember the name Khasabha Dadasaheb Jadhav? The sports enthusiasts and Olympic geeks would recall the name to be India’s first ever individual Olympic medalist (ignore Norman Pritchard). Sixty-four years hence, only twelve individual medals have been added to India’s tally. The achievements of Satara-born wrestler is talked, written or discussed only in the past decade or so. K.D. Jadhav’s journey to bronze medal is a remarkable tale involving numerous struggles which he had to overcome to taste the Olympic success.

I think, athlete’s most pristine moment are those few minutes after he/she has won a medal and then while standing on the podium until the time, the reality has set in. What happens next is based on the popularity of the sport and the preferences of people. K.D. Jadhav’s achievement never found a mention on the front pages in 1952, as the hockey team’s performance dominated the headlines after they won their fifth successive gold medal. Strange?

Unlike today, in the late 1940’s and 50s, India entered the Olympics with a guarantee to return with a gold. Indian hockey players were that great, a gold medal was assured whenever or whichever tournament they entered. In tune with that hype and expectations, the Indian hockey team didn’t disappoint and with each win, the adoration for the team only increased. Politicians who had flocked themselves to be associated with the hockey, ignored the achievements of K.D. Jadhav, after all, India at that time was under the spell of Indian hockey.

Hockey stars were celebrities and other athletes in India were ignored, barring for few mentions sparsely. In a country obsessed with gold, how would a bronze medal VALUE MORE THAN a gold medal?

Forty-four years after that memorable third place in Helsinki, in contrary, Leander Paes’ bronze medal was celebrated and even hailed as a national triumph. It can be argued that the sports culture in the 1990s India had improved from the 1950s, and more so, no one at that time anticipated the medal drought at the Olympics, and very few predicted the decline of Indian hockey. Indian hockey was on a auto-pilot mode during the winning streak. And, after all those years when Paes won, he became the most celebrated individual of that year.

Fast forward to today’s generation, in India, there is a surge in digital news consumption apart subscribing to the traditional media houses. There is a lot of room for stories to be covered and alongside cricket other sports too get more attention than previously.

Hence one can argue, K.D. Jadhav was born in an era when his countrymen in general looked at sports differently. Except hockey, other individual and team sports were sidelined and ignored on several occasions.

Do you blame hockey for those refusals of other Olympic sports in the 1950’s? or should we accept the fact, the sports culture has continuously evolved and those ignorance were part of India’s progression AND GROWTH in SPorts?

In the end, I believe, what happened then was based on beliefs and ideologies of that time, and in retrospect we cannot alter those views. What we can do at the moment is to give credit where it is due. And, looking at the preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Indian contingent are well presented on the media. Medals will be celebrated, however no Indian athlete will be ignored like it happened in the past.