When S.V. Sunil played the first match of the Four-Nation Olympic (hockey) Test Event in London in the first week of May, his head “felt heavy”.
It was not the burden of carrying a struggling team that made the 23-year-old forward’s head ache; he was merely undone by a colour combination that was “disturbing”.
The Indian team played for the first time on a hockey turf that was blue in colour, with pink runways and yellow balls, which was a useful experience for the team ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, to be played on the same surface of the Riverbank Arena. That the Indian team lost all three matches (between 2-6 May) to Australia, Germany and Great Britain is both a measure of its position in international hockey and its inability to adjust to this new surface.
Feeling blue: Britain’s James Tindall (left) and India’s Sardar Singh. Photo by Sang Tan/AP.
Across countries in the same continent, another sport and the same story: The week after the hockey competition, the world’s best tennis players slammed the blue-coloured clay court at the ATP Mutua Madrid Open (7-13 May).
Over the last few weeks, the colour blue has marked its influence on two major sports, hockey and tennis, with mixed response—to both the colour and the quality of surfaces used. While tennis players have complained more about the nature of the surface, as did the Indian team’s coach Michael Nobbs, the Indian hockey players were unsettled by the colour.
Changes in sport or the way it has been conducted have not always found instant favour among sportspeople, who are traditionally creatures of habit. Many changes in laws, usually aimed at improving viewer or spectator experience, have initially met with resistance.
In Madrid, world No. 3 Rafael Nadal blamed his first loss on clay in almost a year on the surface, saying he couldn’t move well on it. Both he and No. 1 ranked player Novak Djokovic said they would boycott the tournament next year if it didn’t go back to the traditional red-clay surface.
“They can do whatever they want, but I won’t be here next year if this clay stays,” Djokovic told reporters during the tournament.
While blue is the logo colour of the insurance company that sponsors the Madrid Open, tournament owner Ion Tiriac insisted that the choice was not a publicity stunt but an attempt to improve tennis by enhancing the court’s visibility, reported The New York Times.
“Madrid did the blue court to enhance viewing experience, especially on television. It was for a one-year trial and both ATP and WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) will review after the event,” clarified Peter Johnston, managing director of the WTA (Asia-Pacific), who was in Mumbai last week. The leading women players did not criticize the Madrid surface as vocally as the men did.
The same story resonates at the Riverbank Arena. A spokesperson for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) said the changes in the hockey turf were meant to enhance the impact of hockey among 25 other Olympic sports and improve the experience of players, TV audiences and spectators. The contrast of yellow balls on a blue surface would help players, it was argued.
But ground reports tend to differ. Defender Sandeep Singh says it was difficult to make “eye contact” on the surface initially. His teammate Shivendra Singh adds: “It was so strange; the ball looked so much bigger. The blue turf was shining, the colour contrast was at times too much to handle.”
These two players and Sunil, in Mumbai last week to sign up as brand ambassadors for liquor maker Tilaknagar Industries Ltd, agreed that after some practice and match play, they did warm to the new colour.
While the blue surface’s impact on television is not yet known, objective observers believe in its advantages. “For example, advertisements that use blue as a predominant colour are the most (easily) watched,” says Larra Shah, a Mumbai-based holistic healer and colour therapist. “Blue, like in water and skies, is soothing. Whenever there is change, there is chaos, but when the mind focuses on something, colour does not matter.”
The Indian hockey team will continue practising with yellow balls at its ongoing camp in Pune, because the only centre in India with a blue turf, Ludhiana, is too hot to train in. Their next assignment, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia from 24 May, will also be on a blue turf.
But after the experience in London, this time, perhaps, the 18-member squad will not be so easily blinded by colour.