An era came to end with the untimely demise of Indian hockey player, Mohammed Shahid, who succumbed to a critical illness. But what is killing the stick-sport?
Former Indian hockey team captain and Olympic gold medallist, Mohammad Shahid, passed away on July 20, 2016 at a hospital near New Delhi. Shahid was 56 years old and lost his life to a severe liver condition and kidney failure.
Barely a few weeks earlier, the sports ministry had announced a grant of INR 1 million for Shahid, who was battling with jaundice and dengue and had been admitted to a hospital in his home town, Varanasi, on June 29, 2016.
Shahid was employed in the Diesel Loco Works factory in Varanasi since 1996 and the Indian Railways had announced they would pay for his medical expenses.
The hockey legend was part of the Indian team that won the gold medal in field hockey at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Shahid, a dribbling wizard, was also a part of the national team that won a silver medal in the Delhi Asiad in 1982, and bronze in the Seoul Asiad in 1986.
Shahid was conferred the Arjuna Award, the highest sports award in India, in 1981 and went on to bag the fourth-highest civilian award of the country, the Padma Shri in 1986.
Born on April 14, 1960 in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Shahid burst onto the international hockey scene at the age of 19 in 1979 against France at the Junior World Cup. But it was during a four-nation tournament in Malaysia that he won rave reviews from his captain Vasudev Baskaran – who would lead India at the 1980 Olympics – leaving the opposing Pakistan players stunned by his mastery.
Shahid’s style of play was based on speed and an ability to dribble the ball with a rare wizardry, and it was this skill which won him fans across the country during the 1980s and briefly revived Indian hockey which had been losing out to cricket steadily since the 1970s and a trend that snowballed India won the 1983 Cricket World Cup, for the first time ever.
Shahid’s brilliance was often compared with that of hockey players like Dhyan Chand –one of the greatest field hockey players of all times and a winner of three Olympic gold medals.
A wave of sorrow passes through the nation
India is mourning the loss of a veteran player, an artist– Shahid liked to sing, and an entertainer. Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the hockey fraternity and sports lovers in grieving the death.
“In the untimely & unfortunate demise of Mohammed Shahid, India has lost a talented sportsman who played with immense passion & vigour,” tweeted Modi.
“We tried our level best to save Mohammed Shahid but sadly, neither our help nor prayers were enough to save him. Tributes to him. RIP,” Modi wrote in his second tweet.
“My heartfelt condolences on the passing away of Mohammed Shahid, one of the greatest hockey players of all time,’’ tweeted Anil Kumble, head coach of the Indian cricket team.
“A legend leaves us. Watching Mohammed Shahid’s magic with the hockey stick was memorable. May his soul rest in peace,” tweeted Sachin Tendulkar, former Indian cricket captain.
A slow death for the game
Shahid’s death has dealt a blow to hockey as he was one of the few living legends of the sport. Historically considered to be the National Sport of the country, hockey has been overshadowed by cricket for over five decades, which has pulled in millions of dollars in sponsorship money and broadcast rights, while leaving hockey and other sports gasping for funds.
The growing popularity of cricket turned all investors towards it as well as the fans and the source of fresh talent. School students began training for cricket at inter-school, state and national levels, leaving the hockey-pitch in their school, barren. Children playing cricket in schools is a common view in metropolitan cities like New Delhi and Mumbai. If a school doesn’t have a proper pitch, any unused ground is good enough to stick the stumps in and start the game of runs and wickets. This is also true for schools in villages and remote Indian areas, where not much focus is put on sports or co-curricular activities.
The creation of the Indian Premiere League (IPL), a few years ago brought in a fresh flood of money into cricket in India, at the cost of other sports, and also led to a rash of match fixing controversies as well as arrest of leading cricketers and organisers. This led the Indian Supreme Court to appoint a committee to examine the entire structure and functioning of the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), the official regulator of the game in India. The panel has submitted a scathing report, which is set to change the face of the game in the country and around the world.
While cricket was fighting its battles, other sports like hockey and football received a lease of life with the launch of similar leagues as cricket. But the fate of hockey looks sealed due to extremely poor administration and politicisation of the governing body, Hockey India League (HIL), which has suffered from severe infighting for years.
“Cricket is highlighted, it is glamorous and is everywhere; it cannot be avoided. It is the sport that attracts maximum sponsors no matter what level it is being played at,” says, Anil Kumar, a cricket coach at Modern School in New Delhi and at Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce.
“There are about hundred students who come to train at the Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce and the number is in manifold at the school too. For hockey, however, about 10-15 students sign up and that too during the school’s summer camp for which the sessions are held only on weekends whereas the school conducts regular fitness drills and matches for the cricket enthusiasts,” added Kumar.
Factors like marketing, sponsorship, international backing, celebrity endorsements etc, have been drawing more public attention to certain sports like cricket, while lack of funds among other factors have further pushed back sports like Hockey, which deserve attention from the right authorities to be put in forefront again.