High-quality World Cup extravaganza promises to transform hockey into a spectator sport


The build-up starts over three hours before the game. Chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai and Go India fill the refurbished Kalinga Stadium. Outside vendors are making a killing doing up faces with the tri-colour. Cricket fans have also landed up in their India gear to witness the rising popularity of hockey. To sum it up, the FIH Hockey World Cup has turned out to be a high-quality spectacle promising to finally transform hockey into a spectator sport in the country.

For years, lack of proper marketing initiatives meant hockey remained a poor cousin to cricket, failing to protect its players and to draw in the crowds. The world cup has changed much of that. Fantastic infrastructure along with fan engagement initiatives have brought the players closer to fans. And, quality television coverage has boosted the viewership as well.

Half-time interviews with coaches and media engagement with players ahead of the game, access to practice for the traveling media, access to fan parks for those who have come from all over the world, has transformed the world cup into a carnival. Former Indian stars from across sports have been invited to Odisha for every India game and they have made the event a spectacle on social media.

Most importantly, the Indian team too has stepped up. With victories against Spain and Wales and a hard-fought draw against England, India hasn’t done badly. While many of us were disappointed that the team failed to top the group to gain a direct entry into the quarter finals, there is no reason to believe that India will not go past New Zealand in the crossover game on Sunday.

For the longest time we have celebrated ‘jugaad’ in hockey. It’s as if we take pride in talking about the poverty of players despite having played for India at the highest level. It’s shameful that we haven’t been able to give them the kind of life they deserve. A sport that is rich will never let its own down. Cricket hasn’t. Hockey has. And that’s why this world cup has been a breath of fresh air. It was great to see the 1975 world cup winning team congregate in Bhubaneshwar and celebrate. It was great to see former players from the 1980 Moscow Gold medal winning team felicitated in Bhubaneshwar. Such gestures add to the sport and encourage many youngsters to take it up as a career. It pushes fans to buy tickets and make it to the stadiums. There is a clamour for tickets that we haven’t seen in hockey before and with an Indian win against New Zealand it will only grow in the days to come.

This world cup has helped India take massive strides in becoming a multi-sport nation. The Sri Lanka cricket series was being played simultaneously and Virat Kohli scored his 76th international hundred in the third and final ODI. In normal circumstances, Virat would be the only sports news. But not so this time. The England tie received adequate coverage and the gutsy draw was celebrated as much as Virat’s hundred.

Can this be sustained in the days ahead? Can hockey become glamorous and crowd friendly? Odisha has shown the way. They have built infrastructure which is as good, if not better than cricket, and that should go a long way in putting backs on seats. Let’s just hope Harmanpreet has a better day and India steps up to the Kiwi challenge. For the sake of the fans and to a large extent the sport, an Indian victory on Sunday will do more for hockey than we can possibly imagine. .”



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