Field hockey’s global administrators want to bring the World Cup to India in 2010 and help spawn a revival for the sport in the process.
Gearing up:Current Indian national hockey team with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (centre) and his wife Gursharan Kaur. Winner of eight Olympic gold medals in hockey, including six between 1928 and 1956, India has struggled at the top since the mid-1960s, though it is the reigning Asia Cup champion.
In an interview, International Hockey Federation (FIH) president Els van Breda Vriesman said talks had begun with Indian companies to get them to sponsor Indian hockey, and especially the men’s World Cup, tentatively scheduled to be held in New Delhi.
But first, she said, an Indian corporate house must snag the title sponsorship for a World Cup that India lifted only once—32 years ago. “That’s what we hope to achieve,” she said. “We hope we give the passion to the corporate world, especially in India.”
Winner of eight Olympic gold medals in hockey, including six between 1928 and 1956, India has struggled at the top since the mid-1960s, though it’s the reigning Asia Cup champions. In the prestigious Champions Trophy featuring the world’s top six teams, India has qualified only nine times out of 25, never won the title and finished last twice.
India’s golden era preceded live television coverage and the advent of big sponsorship money, and stars such as Gagan Ajit Singh head for foreign leagues for better pay: Singh and Dilip Tirkey play in Holland, while Viren Resquinha and Dilip Thakur are among the 21 Indian players in Germany. Worse, none of them is worshipped the way top cricketers are, or even other sportspeople as tennis’ Sania Mirza.
The international federation intends to change that.
The challenge, Vriesman conceded, was “to get the young people involved in hockey, get young people back to the game and restore its former glory” in India. It plans a talent development programme, Project Promoting Indian Hockey, in association with local administrators.
Run by a separate management team, the programme will take the sport to the grass root for talent identification, and improving standards of umpiring and coaching over the next four months.
The World Cup, a joint venture between international and local hockey authorities, is a result of the project. The final decision on allotting the event, however, will be taken in March. It will depend upon achievement of set targets, both in relation to the project and the organization of the World Cup.
Vriesman said the time was just right for the project to click with the youth, given the popularity of the hit Bollywood movie Chak De! India that portrays a hockey coach taking the Indian women’s team to victory.
And, just as the organizers of the 2008 Beijing Olympics are using Chinese actor Jackie Chan, Chak De star Shah Rukh Khan could be used to popularize hockey and the World Cup three years hence, she said.
“We are open to brand ambassadors, but the FIH has to take the call.”
The global federation facilitates the development of hockey and sells title sponsorship and television rights for the World Cup.
Vriesman declined to quote figures, though said, typically, 80% of revenues come from sponsorships and merchandising, and the remaining from ticket sales.
The last men’s World Cup in Germany was sponsored by Holland-based accountancy network BDO International, while the women’s tournament in Portugal was backed by South Korean electronics giant Samsung Group. Both have operations in India (BDO through member-firm Lodha & Co. of Kolkata), and Samsung has been supporting Indian Olympics and Asian Games contingents since 1996.
New Delhi hosts the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and this was a major reason for planning the hockey World Cup the same year, Vriesman said.
The Dhyan Chand National Stadium, also the venue for the Commonwealth Games hockey, will be ready by 2009.
If allotted the World Cup, it will be after almost three decades that India plays host to the event. The last and the only time India hosted the championship was in 1982 in Mumbai.
Vriesman said the World Cup supervisory board, chaired by former Dutch International Andre Bolhuis, was approved earlier in the day. A Special Organising Committee for the World Cup has also been finalized with FIH secretary K. Jothikumaran as interim chairman.