Hockey grounds are specialised astroturf pitches and, to hire the pitch, it would cost around RM100 to RM120 per session of one and the half hours. Schools usually do get a discount of 50%. This is the revenue expense but on the capital aspect to built an international hockey site itself would cost around RM 10m to RM15m, depending on the facilities and land cost. This site has to be maintained and that would take a huge chunk of the revenue expenditure. The pitch would need replacement at an average of once every 4 years and this would range around RM800,000 to RM1.2m per pitch. The other replacement cost would be the "flood lights", which is a significant cost factor. Such capital expenditures are usually borne by local authorities.
These expenditures call into question the affordability of playing hockey. Affordability then begs a more imminent question of accessibility to the game by an average person. This is vital for developing and poorer countries, as both the country and the people have to weigh their priorities before incurring such expenditures. Is hockey such a priority that the expenditure is deemed necessary? There may be alternative and cheaper means of indulging into sporting activities that provide greater accessibility to a larger portion of its population eg football. These are inevitable questions that would be asked.
Such lines of thought would always be there in view of the experiences the older generation had with grass hockey. Grass was everywhere and hockey was not played in specialised fields. It was a much cheaper exercise and accessibility was never an issue. This is not a debate between grass and astroturf grounds, rather it is about the economics vis-a-vis an average person's dilemma in developing and poorer countries. Despite being known as a national game in the Indian sub-continent, the numbers attracted to hockey are steadily declining and this must be worrying the people administering world hockey. This phenomenon is also common in other developing and poorer nations as hockey does not provide an avenue for people to get out of the poverty bondage that is offered by football or cricket.
This takes me to the just completed Hockey World Cup at New Delhi, India. I have tabulated below the World Cup positions and the appropriate countries' per capita income and purchasing power parity (PPP) with their respective rankings.
Per capita income literally means how much each individual receives in monetary terms of the yearly income generated in the country. It does not take into account distribution of the wealth in the country and therefore it is only a rough guide to the wealth of the nation. The figures stated are on a nominal basis. Puchasing Power Parity (PPP) is based on the law of "one price" through exchange rate equilibrium, where it equalizes the purchasing power of different currencies for a given basket of goods. Essentially it provides a comparison of living standards in countries. Both these indices provide a sufficient indicator for a country's economic position.
What the Table provides is that developing countries like Argentina, India, South Africa and Pakistan only represent 33.3% of the qualifiers for the World Cup. If you take out the host India, as they automatically qualified, developing countries only constitute 25% of the total. Effectively what it means is that 66.6% of the countries who were at New Delhi are developed countries and each having their PPP exceeding US$20,000.
What is even more glaring is that the top 5 nations in the World Cup have PPPs exceeding US$30,000. Is this a mere coincidence or is it a representation that wealth is the key ingredient to be a highly ranked hockey nation? Although Canada with a PPP of US$38,400 is only placed 10th at the World Cup, the point being that a non-traditional hockey nation has qualified reflecting what wealth has done for the game in the country. Traditional hockey power nations like India and Pakistan whose PPP are around the US$3,000 region are struggling in modern times. Indeed Pakistan created an unprecedented history by coming last in the World Cup.
It would seem success in modern hockey seems to have a direct relationship to the wealth of a nation and its people. This in a way brings out the salient issue that hockey is an expensive game and affordability, which is a pre-requisite for accessibility, is a key indicator whether or not a nation is successful in the game.
If we push the clock 35 years back, India and Pakistan were the "masters" of the game. The game was played on grass and accessibility plus affordability were non issues. The moment hockey became an expensive game, the old "kingpins" slowly started to fall out of grace and the game itself suffered in popularity. Indeed Malaysia too has taken a "beating" and the game is not as popular as it used to be.
Traditional hockey was skillful in approach, taking account of the uneven nature of the ground. Modern hockey is flat with explosive runs built on what the player's anatomy can offer. The game itself seems to give much weight to penalty corners as they can become the significant determining factor in winning or losing.
In essence modern hockey brings together the various sciences from bio-medicine, sports science, bio-mechanics, psychology, nutrition science, physical education, massage therapy,information technology and so forth, which captures the best in a player for the optimum performance of the team. These are complex matters that require the necessary expertise and laboratories to undertake the necessary work such that the appropriate database is created to be used on a "real time" basis during the game. This is to provide the right information to timely take the necessary actions to give the team that extra edge in the game. This means that today's coach must be an extraordinary person who should know how to manage all these elements and utilise it properly in a manner that is beneficial to the team. In short a coach has to be educated on such salient issues and have the experience to manage them.
All these have costs elements and the question is whether developing and poorer countries would want to invest on such matters when there are other greater priorities for these countries. In some of these countries sports is an avenue for people to get out of the poverty chain and therefore sports that provide such opportunities become more attractive. This in a way explains why football has taken such a strong presence in Africa, Middle East and South America, while cricket seems to show its face in the Indian sub- continent. In all these where does hockey stand?
Maybe this is where the past and present leadership in world hockey ie International Hockey Federation (FIH) must take the responsibility of lacking the foresight when making changes, thereby permitting the domination of hockey by the richer nations and allowing an "ugly face" to surface in the decline of the game with the developing and poorer nations. In a nutshell the question of affordability and accessibility would hinder hockey from becoming a popular game in regions where the world population is significant in numbers. If FIH does not understand the simple rule of numbers and the concept of investing today for tomorrow, they might as well accept the reality that hockey in the future shall only be played by the rich nations and enjoyed by them. Today's domination of hockey by rich nations seems to be the trend setting for the future.