Hockey’s contestations are moving in different directions. The West no longer has full ownership of hockey’s political and cultural domains.
With money power entering what once was a hermit sport, the western monopoly over decision- making is eroding. For instance, the Hockey India League has globalized the sport and shaken its power structure. Consider the facts.
The Dutch, German, British or Spanish leagues have very few foreign players. In Europe, hockey is a family sport, bolstered by easy access to venues.
One could play in three different countries over a week. This creates cultural cohesion, making hockey look like a home-grown European enterprise.
The cultural geography of European hockey is fortress-like. This is in consonance with the political and cultural landscape of an inward-looking Europe. Countries like India are injecting a different culture into hockey, as part of a broader conversation.
As India ascends the ranks of global economic powers, sport cannot be immune to the shift. Being the swing state of the international system, India can now shape outcomes in international negotiations, including sporting ones. Narinder Batra’s election as the first non- European president of the International Hockey Federation is an example. India’s rise as hockey’s financial powerhouse is a reality.
Before stepping down as the president of Hockey India, Batra left an enduring legacy, the Hockey India League. This is the first truly global hockey league.
The foreign players are at the top of their game, or recentlyretired. Playing in a multiple-venue league in a nation as diverse as India results in different cultural experiences.
When young Indian players rub shoulders with the world’s best, under Indian-owned franchises, there is a feeling of Indian ownership. Why would not foreign players bow to new cultural experiences? At the finals of the first edition in 2013, the iconic Moritz Fuerste warmly hugged the scrawny teenager Mandeep Singh, who had missed an easy scoring opportunity, in a defining moment of affection and mentoring.
What about a Hockey India League for women? Female players from the West are waiting in the wings. Martin Gotheridge, former president of the European Hockey Federation and of England Hockey, tells me that the Great Britain women’s team, having won the 2016 Olympics gold medal, hopes Hockey India will introduce a women’s league. Stepping down as president of Hockey India to take up his new charge, Batra so much as expressed regret that he could not introduce a women’s league.
Just as the Indian Premier League has brought the global cricket community into a multiple- franchise cricketing contest, the Hockey India League has also brought in players from all across the world under one cultural umbrella, integrating the rest into the Indian cultural space.
At the recently-concluded Azlan Shah tournament, I heard murmurs of respect for India because of the power India enjoys.
Cricket has already demonstrated India’s assimilative powers, with Australian players playing kabaddi for Star Sports’ Indian viewers. Could hockey be far behind?
The writer is a former ambassador.