Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Step Children

I am not a hockey fan, don't remember the last time I watched a game. I've followed a great many cricket games, but, I am not sure if I qualify as a fan. Definitely not in comparison to some individuals I know.

The context is, India won the T20 championship, rather unexpectedly and the country has been ecstatic. Among all the press coverage about the celebrations, was an article about how the hockey team was left in the dumps.
While India celebrates the return of the winning Twenty20 cricket team, the country's hockey community feels that it has been passed over.

It recently triumphed in the Asia Cup, but its success did not trigger anything like the wild celebrations lavished on the returning cricketers.
Reading the article reminded me of an incident when the hockey team, after winning the Asian games in 1998,was treated down right shoddy by the authorities.
``I will never let my son play hockey at least for India,'' said Dhanraj Pillay, skipper of the Indian team which won the hockey gold medal at the Bangkok Asian Games, on landing in Mumbai last night.
Why would he? I hear he has mellowed down since and was also honored with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award. But the the question still remains, why should he? Why do we watch so much cricket? Why does cricket get all the money and spotlight? Why are we a one sport nation?

I can think of a few reason why we all like cricket:
  • Most of us played cricket as kids, watching cricket let us holds on to that.
  • It is a very accessible game. As a kid, I've played with cricket bats made from the spine of a coconut frond and rubber ball, with lines drawn on a brick wall for stumps. We could play it almost anywhere, no tables, nets, courts etc.
  • All our friends could play - be it 3 or 25 people.
  • India plays lots of games and we win enough games to sustain the hope of the fans.
  • Some of our players are very good and we follow their fortunes and enjoy their skill with the blade/ball.
  • We had to, to fit in.
There are probably tons of other reasons why people like cricket. The question then turns to why don't we like other games enough?
  • We do not have the infrastructure to support other games (tennis, ping pong), and only a few,2-4, can play it at a time. But this is not true for football (yeah, the real one) or kabaddi, for that matter.
  • There isn't much exposure for the other games (TV, press, blogs).
  • There isn't much money from the sponsors. The ROI is higher with a cricketer, with fewer risks. Outside of Bollywood and rare exceptions like Sania Mirza, few individuals are able to convert success into marketable fame.
  • There aren't enough marketed successes.
  • It is a chicken and egg problem.
I do not have my ear to the ground about the latest developments in India relating to support for other games and superstars they've produced. I suppose I am part of the problem!

But, if the national hockey team feels let down after a big victory, well the other sports are the step children, compared to cricket, the pampered brat!

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