Indian Hockey Looking For Its Glory

In our first issue of Hockey Globe we will look at the Hero Indian League, this hockey NBA that brings together the best players on the planet in the same competition with local Indian players funded by private franchises.

Origins of HIL

For half a century the Indians dominated international hockey with a total of eleven Olympic medals including eight gold. A former British colony, hockey has been taking off all over India since the 19th century and can be considered the “national sport”. India was the cradle of the most talented players on the planet and was competing year after year for the hegemony of international hockey with its neighbor, rival and enemy Pakistan.

Indian players were characterized by extraordinary technique, unmatched liveliness and almost perfect ball control on grass pitches …

But the arrival of synthetic terrain changed the game completely. Due to lack of resources, Indian hockey continued to be practiced on turf or even on land while the game evolved into a more and more physical style, leaving pure technique in the background. Indian players had not prepared for such a change. The rest is well known, the Indians have seen their world reference status disappear for the benefit of the European nations at first and then Australia. This descent into hell reached its climax at the Beijing Olympics with the unqualification of the Indians for the first time in their history. Since then, India has been trying to regain its former glory and does not hesitate to proudly recall that it is the nation of hockey.

For almost ten years now, initiatives have multiplied to restore the image of Indian hockey. In 2005, at the initiative of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) in close collaboration with Leisure Sports Management and the television channel ESPN India, the Premier Hockey League (PHL), a sort of hockey NBA was born. The goal was simple: to attract the best players on the planet to increase the level of local players. Innovative, the project was not able to take advantage of social networks, at the time still almost nonexistent, and was sorely lacking visibility in Europe. This did not prevent some international top players such as Argentinians Jorge Lombi, Mario Almada and Spanish captain Juan Escarré, among others, from participating in the event. The PHL also allowed to test new rules, who have visibly seduced the international bodies of hockey. It was during the Indian competition that the quarter-time of 17 minutes 30 was introduced, for advertising reasons, as well as the shoot-outs that replaced the strokes. Other novelties have not yet found takers but they could well return to the taste of the day. The PHL did not allow a draw and the number of players on each team decreased gradually until there was a winner while the coaches had to use at least two times-out per game. A benefit tactically but obviously also for advertisers. as well as the shoot-outs that replaced the strokes. Other novelties have not yet found takers but they could well return to the taste of the day. The PHL did not allow a draw and the number of players on each team decreased gradually until there was a winner while the coaches had to use at least two times-out per game. A benefit tactically but obviously also for advertisers. as well as the shoot-outs that replaced the strokes. Other novelties have not yet found takers but they could well return to the taste of the day. The PHL did not allow a draw and the number of players on each team decreased gradually until there was a winner while the coaches had to use at least two times-out per game. A benefit tactically but obviously also for advertisers.

In three years of competitions, the big names of the sport pushed the doors of the Indian championship. Jamie Dyer, three times best player in the world, the famous sleeper Sohail Abbas and the recent Pa Torquemada gold stick have participated in the PHL. Unfortunately in 2008, the league must put the lock, the blame for funding problems and pressure from the region of Punjab, traditionally the birthplace of Indian hockey and which had no team among the initial 5 franchises.The PHL was nevertheless a huge success that energized our sport in India and opened the way for other similar initiatives.

India is by far the country that hosts the most players, spectators, fans of hockey in the world. Although this is the “national sport” and traditionally hockey is the Indian Olympic sport par excellence, hockey does not have the same importance everywhere. Hockey is especially present in the northern regions, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh. In these regions, hockey is more than just a sport, it’s almost a way of life.

Hockey is just everywhere. In schools, universities, sports club and some companies that own their hockey industry. It is not uncommon to see teams with names such as “Indian airways”, “Punjab Police” … Hockey also mobilizes many spectators live and on television, whose rights are a reason for controversy since the years 2000. A crisis that nearly broke Indian hockey because of a power struggle within the Indian National Hockey Authority in 2011. Traditionally hockey was organized by the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) which was long chaired by KPS Gill, an ubiquitous president who was behind all the major hockey decisions. During the PHL and the massive arrival of several foreign coaches, several corruption phenomena have caused a stir in the local press. Overall discontent spread throughout the hockey community as the team’s poor sports results were combined with corrupt and inefficient management of the federation’s resources.

It is in this context that a new body, from nowhere and legitimacy so limited, has proclaimed itself the new Indian hockey federation: Hockey India (HI). Led by Narinder Batra, Hockey India grew in importance and soon demanded the federal management of hockey, something the IHF would of course not accept. The case was going to be decided in court and for 5 years, both sides spent their time bickering and trying to destroy the opposing side rather than trying to develop Indian hockey.

The main issue of the case was actually official recognition by the FIH. In order to charm the international public, each organization organized a number of major sporting events. The goal was obviously to demonstrate their seriousness and their ability to handle hockey professionally.

Thus, the IHF, until now only existing federation and thus recognized by the FIH, decided to organize a new edition of the league of stars: World Series Hockey (WSH). Co-funded by Nimbus Sports (one of India’s leading sports broadcast media groups) and Bridgestone, the WSH was not especially an innovative project and resumed the principles and formats of its predecessor, the PHL. But where the WSH was really innovative, it was compared to its massive broadcast on the various Indian sports channels and the Youtube channel of the competition. For the first time in India, hockey was broadcast everywhere for a local competition.

A second point worth noting is the economic impact of the competition for participating players. The 8 franchises had a budget financed by their various sponsors. In the draft , each team “bought” the players according to an auction with an initial purchase price of a minimum of $ 10,000.

International players could sign contracts ranging from $ 30,000 to $ 60,000 for 21 days of competition. To this had to be added the meals, the trips, the expenses for possible companions etc. The champions of the tournament received a prize of 40 million rupees or $ 800,000, the MVP of the tournament, $ 200,000, and at each meeting, the best player of the tournament also received a prize. Indian business hockey was born!

The controversy was soon to arrive. Six months before the competition, the FIH, in a press release, announced the non recognition of the IHF and prohibited all international players likely to participate in the London Olympics to participate in the event. The FIH President, Spanish Leandro Negre, took charge of the case personally and specified that “any player who has participated in a WSH meeting will no longer be able to participate in an official match with his home team”.

The FISH was even going to support Hockey India in its internal quarrel with the IHF. The situation would then become totally chaotic. On the one hand, the Indian government and the Indian Olympic Committee supported the IHF, on the other, the FIH officially recognized Hockey India as the only official federation.

It is clear, however, that neither organization could claim to be examples of sound governance and governance. Even today, we do not know the reasons that led Leandro Negre FIH to support the new self-proclaimed national federation organization vis-à-vis the former federation.

Be that as it may, the WSH was seen from the start deprived of the best players on the planet and was destined to fail from birth …

The revival of Indian hockey

The third attempt to bring together the best players on the planet in an international tournament broadcast for free around the world was the right one: the HIL has been an undeniable success for three years. This tournament has become an inevitable deadline in the calendar of international stars who go to India for a month of total hockey celebration. Six teams compete for the trophy in over 30 games at packed stadiums and unparalleled economic spinoffs in world hockey. All supported by the FIH and with the explicit agreement of most national federations.

Not all federations have positioned themselves in the same way against HIL. The Australian federation for example found interesting agreements with the organization. A three-year contract has been signed between HIL and the Australian authorities giving permission to all Australian internationals to go to India. In exchange, the Indian national team makes a round of matches in Australia once a year. The Kookaburras have integrated this event into their calendar and modified their preparation to be able to make a living in India.It is after all a money affair with remunerations that can not be found anywhere else in hockey. . Rather than boycott the tournament, the Australian staff has reorganized the Olympic preparation according to the Indian league. In the fall, the players were able to physically beat each other before going to the Hero Indian League as the reigning world champions gather in February to focus on the Olympics. A well organized preparation that reconciles the interests of the players as well as the staff of the team as well as those of the federation. In short, a real win-win formula.

All the opposite of Spain, which has for two years prohibited all selected and selectable players to join the Indian championship under penalty of no longer being resumed in the national team. This decision was based on sports considerations, the Spanish federation arguing that a month of intensive matches could be harmful for the preparation of the national team. Faced with this ban, some players who had a contract in India were forced to not respect it. This is the case of midfielder Bloemendaal, Andrés Mir, goalkeeper Kiko Cortes and central defender Bosco Perez-Plá. Other players like David Alegre (formerly Oranje Zwart and currently at RC POLO) and Roc Oliva (formerly HCG and currently at Athletic Terrasa) have however decided to participate in the Indian competition and thus renounced to participate in the World League and at the London European Cup. Faced with the poor results of the team in London (6th place) the players were again taken in the nucleus ….

Between these two extremes, we find countries like Argentina, Germany or Great Britain that allow their stars to participate in the tournament without changing their preparation so far.

In Belgium, the only precedent is the incredible Tom Boon, who was the only player to get permission from the staff to participate in the 2015 edition. An authorization that will have frightened the auction since he had become the most expensive player of history with a record amount of $ 103,000, the equivalent of 82,230 euros, paid the Dabang Mumbai.

Exclusive interview with SV Sunil


Exclusive interview of SV Sunil, the formidable Indian striker, just after the Hero Indian League. A competition that he believes has helped to quickly advance the level of Indian hockey and its internationals.

Oh yes, a huge difference. The first edition was a big question mark about the success of the tournament, we did not know what to expect. This year we marched and played in front of stages filled with thousands of people in a delirious atmosphere, a real pleasure and an incredible experience.

Six months from the Olympic Games in Rio, how is the preparation of this competition that everyone is waiting for?

For the moment, we are still competing in local championships before actually starting preparations on March 6th. There will be several stages of preparation until the Olympic deadline in August.