The first two Olympic Qualifiers have been completed. Both were Men’s tournaments, one in Auckland the other in Santiago. Both produced headlines as New Zealand shattered Argentine Olympic dreams, whilst Great Britain created a perverse slice of history outclassing India. The Indian Men’s hockey team will miss their first Olympic Games for 88 years, in a year that also marks 100 years of hockey in the Olympics.
By Steve Jaspan
But is the latter result really so surprising? Sadly hockey experts have been predicting that the writing “was on the wall”, the inevitable was likely. Some have even bluntly said that it was “an accident waiting to happen!”
Whilst the FIH and IOC do all they can to restore Indian hockey to its former glory it will not be enough if the leaders of Indian hockey do not support the initiative from the bottom of their hearts. There also appears to be confusion in India on the role of Ric Charlesworth, who is there to help, or a reluctance to use a man whose coaching exploits are legendary.
Dieticians say that you will only lose weight if you have the determination and discipline to follow a regimen of healthy eating and exercise but it has to be a personal decision. It is often accompanied by a radical change in lifestyle. The same applies to hockey nations who wish to restore their former glory. Some very serious decisions need to be made but they have to be backed by the genuine will and desire to it.
But isn’t it ironical? Numerically small, geographically somewhat isolated, New Zealand is able to produce remarkable hockey results on the back, mainly, of enormous determination and excellent management of fairly limited resources.
Contrast India’s teeming population, a glut of resources and good geographic position. The comparison is stark! No matter what country, one can talk of geographic divisions, language and cultural diversity within countries but when the chips are down the National Associations, selectors, coach and team have to put aside these differences and play for their country and their flag. In a sport like hockey where money is of less importance than many other sports, it is pride and passion that helps produce results.
Invariably the super teams use this to engender a culture of winning whether the great Indian Olympic Teams particularly of the Dyand Chand era, the Hockeyroos under Ric Charlesworth and there are many other examples in other sports!
So four more Olympic Qualifiers will be played in April and early May. Will Men’s World Champions Germany triumph amongst the cherry blossoms in Kakamighara (Japan) or will the hosts cause a shock?
Can 1992 Olympic Women’s Champions Spain go to bustling Baku and suppress the ambitions of the local Azeris?
With a new Russian President in place, the hosts in Kazan will be keen to impress and tournament favorites, the United States may find that the “cold” war is long over and the early spring weather will offset the heat of combat on the field. Watch the Indian Women’s Team. Will the recent Bollywood movie be a sign of an Indian Women’s triumph?
They have the talent and could at least lift the spirits of Indian hockey supporters, saddened by their Men’s performance.
The Olympic Qualifiers are concluded on the west coast of Canada. The hosts, like their salmon will be swimming upstream against a very athletic and improving Korean side, whilst the determined and enthusiastic Irish team are out to prove that their World Ranking of 14th belies their true position!
Every tournament will break hearts : lift spirits; create small sideshows : big moments; produce hum drum passages of play : dazzling interludes, but one thing is for sure it is high drama on the world hockey stage in an Olympic Year!
But before we reach Beijing remember the Champions Trophies women in Germany in May and men in Holland in June. Feasts of hockey in great surroundings.
Then on the 8th day of the 8th Month in the 8th Year of this millennium, probably at 8 minutes past eight, the Olympic torch will light up the imagination and expectations at the greatest Games of them all! It is a prospect to savour!
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