India was almost an unbeatable team in world hockey during the 1960s and 70s. The Indian hockey team won 7 out of 8 gold medals at the 1964 Olympics and it also won a silver medal during this period. Again in 1984 Moscow Olympics, Indian team won a gold medal and all these statistics show that India was a super power in hockey during those times.
Since 1980, the performance of the Indian hockey team declined both in Olympics and the world cup championships as well. What went wrong with Indian hockey team? Nobody can say that it is the inability of the players because the country has managed to produce some excellent talents during this period. Who is the culprit? What led to India’s downfall?
Grass to AstroTurf was a difficult change to handle for Indian players
Hockey was played on the grass surface till the early part of the 1970s. The transformation from the grass surface to the AstroTurf started gaining momentum during the mid-1970s and the International Hockey Federation (IHF) brought in rules for making synthetic AstroTurf mandatory for all international tournaments. India had only limited AstroTurf grounds because they were highly expensive to lay. The Indian players were only used to the grass grounds and the new surface was the pretty difficult one to deal with. Hockey became a power game instead of a skill game and the Indian players were unable to adapt to this change immediately. The affluent western countries like Holland, Australia and Germany had hundreds of AstroTurf grounds and they made use of this opportunity to dominate the world hockey.
Hockey administrators in India must also take the blame
The hockey administrators were only interested in enjoying power and they were really slow to respond to the developments in the world hockey. These people failed to provide the necessary infrastructure for the players and their vested interests made everything chaotic and disruptive.
For all Indian hockey lovers, there are some positive signs. The recent performances of the Indian hockey team offer some hope and the current Indian coach Roelant Oltmans has managed to make players confident while playing on AstroTurf surfaces. India has beaten some strong European teams recently and the performance at the recently concluded Champions Trophy (silver medal) was really encouraging. Let us hope that the future of Indian hockey is promising and bright.