Friday, March 20, 2009

FIH - Part 2: "The playground for the selected few".

Hockey dominance has slid at a speedy pace from the Asians to the Europeans and the Oceanic nation.This correspond with the switch from grass hockey to turf hockey. It commenced in the 1970s as turf became an official pitch for hockey. Although the decline was not initially seen but with time the European and Oceania nations domination became crystal clear. Intermittently. the traditional powers of grass hockey namely India and Pakistan made their presences felt, while South Korea became the the new Asian force but overall the move to turf hockey did not have a significant positive impact with the Asians

The introduction of turf hockey suited the Europeans well as they were more used to it plus the pitch was suited to all weather conditions. Further the classic style of hold and play with skillful dribble in grass hockey was not a phenomenon in turf hockey, although years later it did evolve into such play. The initial aspect of turf hockey was much of "hit and run" play and therefore the issue of basics and fitness were key aspect.Teams were concentrating at penalty corners and developing various strategies for high conversion rates. Games were won or lost on penalty corners. Without doubt the conversion to turf hockey was very much a European and Oceania initiative.

Somehow, the Asian, African, South American and Pan Americans did not realise what they were getting into.In the short term it would not create a significant difference but there was a price they would have to pay on the longer term. These countries did not realise the cost element related to switching from grass to turf. The cost is not only related to the high cost of infrastructure i.e field and facilities but also maintenance cost. As for the players the cost of equipping themselves had also drastically increased. What we have is that the Europeans had started imposing their standards into the game, where the costs just continue escalating and it has now made hockey an expensive game.

Therefore countries in the category of developing or poor would find it hard to invest in expensive structures or equipments to develop players of international class. This therefore affected the "supply chain" of future players. Formerly with grass hockey, one could play anywhere and the issue of costs was not a burden as the standards set were far lower. Now in these countries the issue of accessibility and affordability has hindered the growth of hockey. Indeed in the Indian sub-continent, the switched to turf hockey has made youngsters to migrate and play cricket rather than hockey. Effectively, hockey has becomes a less popular game in this region .

In a world where sponsorship plays a vital role for games, declining interest in hockey would have long term repercussions. The Indian sub continent, China, and Africa probably represents two to three fifth of the world population. Years ago such markets did not attract the attention of sponsors. Slowly as its middle class population grew, it has become a contest among the sponsors to get into these markets. Yet, for the past decades we have changed hockey to such a state that a major proportion of the world population seem to show less enthusiasm to the game. Today if we take a look how cricket is flourishing in these areas (barring China), one would then realise that the popularity of hockey is paying the price for trying to modify its game. The game may have progress but the support in these traditional countries seem to be declining. Is it good for the game?

We talk of a level playing field but does it really apply in hockey.Today when we look at the domination of hockey, it seem to be the domain of developed countries. They have the resources to do it, while the developing and poor countries have other greater priorities like education, building a health system and so forth. Therefore, hockey which has changed with the rules, does not permit the game to be played on a "level playing field". So long as affordability and accessibility are issues then it means the game of hockey is essentially dominated by a few who develop rules to sustain dominance at their fashioned playgrounds.

Part 3 shall continue on the theme of domination of hockey by select groups.

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