The Fans of HockeyBlogsBlog: Hockey – The Ambassador of Indian Sports

Amidst the big changes in the central government, last week was also a landmark decision by Hindustan Motors to stop the production of the iconic Ambassador car. The Ambassador, the first car to be made in India has a sentimental value in the minds of a large stratum of the Indian population. Below are few lines from an online news portal about the reasons for stopping the production

Official Hindustan Ambassador cars parked outside North Block, Secretariat Building, New Delhi

Official Hindustan Ambassador cars parked outside North Block, Secretariat Building, New Delhi

‘Hindustan Motors suspended work at its Uttarpara plant outside of Kolkata because of weak demand, very low productivity, growing indiscipline, large liabilities and lack of funds’

Once the pride of Indian roads, however, it started losing its dominance since mid-1980s with the introduction of low-priced Maruti 800 by Maruti Suzuki. The Ambassador further lost its market share in India with the opening of Indian economy in 1990s. But the biggest setback it received was in 2003. In 2003, Prime Minister of India’s fleet was replaced from Ambassador to German-made BMWs.

When, I watched the Indian Hockey team go down to England by yet again conceding a goal in the dying minutes of the game, I could not but help dwell about the possibility that in the ecosystem of Indian sport, Hockey is the Ambassador. And I know, to the really passionate hockey fan these might seem harsh words from a fan that has just seen his team lose yet again. But as a minor part of the sporting ecosystem and with some background to comment on the business viability of the sport I wonder if we are too stuck up with promoting an out of fashion sport. Indian hockey sadly, is exhibiting all troubles described about the Ambassador vehicle! Weak demand for the sport on television, low productivity in terms of results in international events, growing indiscipline with 2 factions in the system fighting for control and lack of funds with dwindling sponsor support!! Thankfully the sport does not have large liabilities to weaken it further (though it could be argued that it’s tax payer’s money being spent)

1975 Kuala Lumpur World Cup winners: Indian Hockey Team with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

1975 Kuala Lumpur World Cup winners: Indian Hockey Team with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

Yes like the car, it’s a beautiful sport that we have once excelled in and we have won 8 Olympic Gold Medals and a World Cup but isn’t that a part of history now? Is it not like making a Hindi movie today with Amitabh Bacchan as the lead still being portrayed as ‘An Angry Young Man’?  Yes we had legends that played the game like wizards, but is it too difficult to see we are not producing wizards anymore!!

It’s not that the sport has not tried to revamp itself; till last year there were 2 versions of a well packaged Hockey League with international player, running in India by 2 separate factions of the system!! Imagine as a national team where we struggle to qualify for the Olympics, there are 2 bodies fighting to take control of the official national federation. The players are decently rewarded in these leagues, they have government jobs, foreign coaches to train them in the national team (and the story of the coaches is another article in itself) and they still struggle to adapt like a world-class team. Every conversation I have had with hockey players (and as a sports marketing professional on the agency side and for a leading sportswear brand I have had many such conversations) all I could hear is cringing about cricketers earning more money and fame. The single constant plea from hockey players and passionate hockey fans to sponsors is to invest into the sport!!

The cricketers have earned the right to make more money, they have been more successful in their sport (global or not is another question) and have found smart, business savvy administrators to run the sport from the might of Indian sponsors. Hockey as a sport is thankfully supported by India’s biggest 2 wheeler company but there surely needs to be accountability displayed by the federation and the players!! The fact that the international federation is pushing so many international tournaments to India also indicates that globally they are not finding sponsorship support for the sport and hence are turning to the Indian 2 wheeler giant to bail them out. Just goes to show the global health of the sport is not really in great spirits.

Yes the spectator response to hockey matches in India has been good, but most sports globally are sustainable only because of the huge television broadcast rights they earn for exclusive viewing. Unless the Indian federation manage to get a broadcast deal to fund its operations the sport will struggle and will survive only because of funding from sponsors who are supporters. And with the large number of entertainment options on television plus and digital spaces does the sport of hockey really stand a chance?

As a country with limited opportunities to win medals at Olympics and World Championships, is it not time for us to focus funds and attention on those sports where we are producing results? Badminton, boxing, chess and shooting are 4 sports which spring to mind immediately. Maybe if there exists a pyramid of sports spends that government does every year, and then it’s time to push hockey to the top of the pyramid.

After losses in every big tournament there are changes to the coaching system, the appointment of coaching and management in Indian hockey would make The Pakistan Cricket board proud!!

The federation and the players need to do better, if not for their own sporting pride, at least for those hopeful hockey fans which still cheer them on.  Unlike Hockey, the management of The Ambassador was funded by Hindustan Motors and not by the Government of India. But like the company took a hard call on the once popular car, maybe it’s also time to take a tough look at the sport.

Author: Akhil Ranade (@akhilranade): Akhil is passionate fan of Indian Sports. He has worked in various capacities in the promotion and managing sports.

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