Major Dhyan Chand is synonymous to hockey in India. Famed for his excellent skills in the sport, Chand was a hockey stalwart who brought home three Olympic gold medals. While global names like Adolf Hitler also acknowledged his excellence, the legend died in grave financial troubles. As the nation celebrates National Sports Day, the protests for honouring him with Bharat Ratna continues.
How often does the world witness a young man from a small Indian village politely declining the offer of German citizenship and a senior rank in the German Army, proposed by the stalwart of Nazism himself? The world held its breath when Major Dhyan Chand not only defeated the host country Germany in 1936 to bag a third Olympics gold for India but also refused to bow down in front of Fuhrer Adolf Hitler that pissed him to the extent of making an impulsive exit from the place. To everyone’s surprise, the leader, infamous for his harsh manners came back to the thronged stadium, smitten by Chand’s swift moves with the hockey stick, only to propose the unpredictable offer, which Chand refused to accept. For him, his nationality was not to be compromised.
Chand, often called by the name ‘The Indian hockey wizard’, had aced the national Indian sport so well that he was recognised as one of the finest hockey players not just in India but across the globe. No parallels can be drawn to his skills, till date.
Born to a British army sepoy, young Chand was never about hockey. In fact, he had his heart in wrestling. Following the footsteps of his father, Chand joined the army at a young age of seventeen after graduating from Gwalior’s Victoria College in 1922. For four years, he indulged himself in several sports, tournaments and regiments. However, it was the matches that he played along with the Indian army during their New Zealand tour that brought before the world, his impeccable skills.
With a spectacular victory in 18 matches, Chand was immediately promoted to the higher rank of Lance Naik.
Meanwhile, India was working towards re-introducing field hockey and formulated the Indian Hockey Federation for the selection of best teams. Chand also appeared for the selections and got picked up as an excellent player from the United Provinces, one of the five teams that participated in the selection. Little did he know that soon, he’ll be shining India’s mettle in hockey before the world.
The historic victory began a string of such episodes. With his lightning-fast swift movements and tricks, Chand emerged as a hockey wizard. Known for always practising in the dark, Major Dhyan Singh bagged the title of Chand, a Hindi word for moon. With each match, the world witnessed a new Chand, who was always better than the last one. He won three Olympic gold medals for India; Amsterdam Summer Olympics 1928, Los Angeles Summer Olympics 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics organised in Berlin, Germany. Chand appeared for several domestic matches this while. “If anybody asked me which was the best match that I played in, I will unhesitatingly say that it was the 1933 Beighton Cup final between Calcutta Customs and Jhansi Heroes,” he had once told the media. It was in 1948 when he played his first international match. For his impeccable contributions, Chand was awarded Padma Bhushan Award, the highest civilian award in India.
He, for sure, had a knack for perfection. He knew his sport well. Once, when Chand was unable to score in a match, he argued with the match referee about the measurement of the goal post, a move that left many confused. However, to everybody’s amazement, he was right; the goal post was found to be in contravention of the official minimum width prescribed under international rules.
A patriot who felt betrayed
A sports legend who made his nation proud, was all alone in his last days in the general ward of Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences as he was suffering from liver cancer and was engulfed by financial distress. Neglected at the hands of his own people Chand felt betrayed.
Worried by the plight of hockey in India he said, “Hindustan ki hockey khatam ho gayi hai. Khiladiyon mein devotion nahin hai. Will to win khatam ho gaya hai.” (India’s hockey is finished. The players lack devotion. The will to win has vanished), after which he relapsed into coma. Even in his last days, Chand could not stop discussing hockey and its future in India.
India lost this gem to cancer on December 3, 1979, but his magic remained. From 2013, the Indian government started celebrating his birth anniversary, August 29, as the National Sports Day in which the President gives away sporting awards such as the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award, Dronacharya Award and the Dhyan Chand Award at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Years later, the wave of giving Chand the due recognition by honouring him with Bharat Ratna, took over India. The former union sports minister Vijay Goel took forward this request to the Prime Minister’s office on June 7, 2017. However, to everyone’s surprise, instead of Chand, the cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, who was retiring from the sport, received the award.
This disappointed many and thus began a series of protests which stood for the legend.
“Why are we begging for the award for Dadda (Dhyan Chand). He should have been the first to get it. Whether he gets it or not, the cult of Dhyan Chand will remain forever,” the former India hockey coach AK Bansal, once told the Indian media.
“It’s a shame that a person who has done India proud in so many occasions hasn’t been given the highest honour of the country yet,” once said the ex-Indian Hockey captain Sandeep Singh while addressing one of the panel discussions held on National Sports Day.
“If we don’t want to recognize it as the national game then we also shouldn’t celebrate August 29, hockey legend Major Dhyan Chand’s birth anniversary, as National Sports Day in India,” he added.
Legends like Chand don’t require validation in the form of honours and awards. History has already been etched with their contributions. However, ignorance of the protests and proposals, raises the question- Are we giving our legends their due share of recognition?