Hockey thrives, a hands-down clincher at smaller Indian venues

Hockey thrives, a hands-down clincher at smaller Indian venues

While support for hockey is evident at smaller venues like Bhubaneswar and Ranchi, the 16000-capacity MDC Stadium in Delhi has hardly seen a sell-out in the past 5-6 years. (Getty Images)

Jaspreet Sahni
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5000-odd fans may not sound too much, especially when you compare it to mad ground attendance at even the most inconsequential of cricket matches in India. But when those 5000 people cheer in unison from the stands, the noise lifts the home team while the ground slips from beneath the visitors.

In India, hockey is one sport that needs the above badly and in uninterrupted supply, because the game connects to Indian hearts like none other. If Indians are passionate about cricket, hockey is close to their heart.

Hence, taking the game to people who want to embrace it is of ultra importance for Hockey India, and the federation, thankfully, realises it. That means building infrastructure at smaller venues to facilitate the sport to move out of metro cities often. It's happening and the response is heart-warming.

Venues like Bhubaneswar and Ranchi have ratified that with stands packed to capacity. It was especially evident at the Champions Trophy last December, where the Kalinga Stadium in Odisha's capital was thronged and bobbing with close to 7000 people during India games.

The same is happening for even a low-key Test series against Japan. Bhubaneswar again is the venue and each of the first three Tests have recorded an attendance in excess of 5000 in the 7500-capacity stadium.

"Bhubaneswar successfully hosted the FIH Men's Champions Trophy last year and the city played the perfect host for the big event. The Kalinga Stadium has international-level infrastructure and good facilities for players and other officials. The main reason to host the series here is the Kalinga Stadium's electrifying atmosphere that the crowd creates," Hockey India CEO, Elena Norman, told IBNLive Sports.

"Moreover, this city is known for being a big fan of the game and this they keep proving by their presence here at the stadium for each and every match," the CEO added.

But is that the only parametre considered while choosing venues for international tournaments. The answer is 'No'.

The Major Dhyan Chand (MDC) National Stadium in Delhi, despite having all the world-class facilities, has its own limitations with fans struggling for places to park their vehicles. And with very little public transport for a drop at the stadium gates, spectators have to walk long distances to reach the venue.

An exact response to that couldn't be elicited but Elena did speak on that.

"It is difficult to compare Delhi's MDC National Stadium with any other stadium as it is one of the best stadium in the world. Hosting a tournament here is always a big draw for us as it has all international level facilities with access to three astro-turf pitches, the only facility of its kind in India."

"Delhi has always been our preferred choice but we want to give more opportunities to other states to host international events as and when they develop international standard venues."

"Our aim is to organise International events at all stadiums that meet FIH standards. Such events inspire the young generation to play hockey and that helps us to attract a bigger talent pool."

"We have received positive responses from Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Ranchi, Bangalore, Chennai, Raipur amongst many others and we have plans to take hockey to new cities in future. Our aim is to take the game to all corners of the country," Elena pointed.

No doubt Hockey India is doing its bit to get hockey the support it has lost in recent years. But while it is evident at smaller venues like Bhubaneswar and Ranchi, the 16000-capacity MDC Stadium in Delhi has hardly seen a sell out in the past 5-6 years.

Only taking hockey to smaller venues doesn't do the trick. Parametres like ticket prices also determine the attendance at venues. And the CEO says it hasn't missed Hockey India's eyes.

"The entry is free for the spectators in the series [against Japan] as we wanted to give as many people as possible an opportunity to witness the matches. The approximate attendance is close to 5,500 for each of the matches. We hope to see the stadium full at capacity of approximately 7,500 for the final match on May 9, 2015," she said.

The next big event in India is the FIH World League final towards the end of this year, and while Elena said the venue for it hasn't been finalised, she did mention what HI looks at while selecting venue for an important tournament.

"We first look at the pitch, which must have an FIH-certified international-standard pitch. We then look at the supporting infrastructure, including international standard light, change rooms, medical rooms and technical officials.

"We also consider the city and the likely interest from fans and spectators," she added.

IBNLive Sports sources hinted that Raipur may get to host the World League Final but Elena said nothing has been decided, though she did reveal it might be a new venue.

"The venue [for World League Final] has not been decided yet as we have a number of good options available. We are, however, speaking to potential hosts and the FIH. We are very excited about the prospect of staging an international event in another new city/state," she concluded.

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