New Delhi: The year 2016 was a big year for Indian hockey, where it scaled new heights - bringing back the glory days. Silver medal in Champions Trophy, Gold in Asian Champions Trophy and Junior World Cup title made it one of the most successful years in recent times.
Hailing the nation's success in its national sport, former captain and senior player Sardar Singh said the introduction of AstroTurf at the junior level has changed the face of Indian hockey.
Sardar also felt that such facilities should be provided from the grassroots level, something that was done in Punjab over the past decade and the state's hockey machinery is reaping the rewards of the same, also contributing majorly at the national scene. Sardar hailed former captain and Olympian Pargat Singh, who came up with the idea of bringing AstroTurf to the villages in Punjab.
"Punjab has produced many hockey stars. I want to credit Surjit Singh Academy for this. Some of the players who were in the Junior Hockey World Cup winning team are the product of the academy. I salute to the NRIs who do funding and show their love for the sport. India has a lot of talent and that talent needs support to showcase its real potential. Government should come forward and make more academies like Surjit Singh Academy," the Olympian added.
Sardar Singh said that in countries like Holland, children are made to groom their talent on AstroTurf from a very young age and that is what has been the secret behind their success.
"In India, most of the schools, colleges and universities do not have AstroTurf. If a child, who is willing to pursue his career in hockey, is provided with all facilities as compared to other countries, he can do wonders. It goes for every sport and India has abundance of talent. But things have started improving. More facilities means more engagements towards the sport," Sardar added.
On being asked how difficult it is to pursue a career in the sport for a family who can’t afford to bear the expenses, Sardar said: "Hockey is an expensive game. I have seen many leaving the sport midway. A normal hockey stick will cost you at least Rs. 2000. Then you need shoes, shin pads, ball and the entire kit. For a practice match, you need at least 3 to 4 sticks."
"Hockey has seen children coming from middle class families. So, it is not easy to afford these expenses. Academies are there in our country, but government should build more academies for kids who want to see themselves as a hockey player someday," he said.
Sardar also hailed the introduction of the Hockey India League (HIL) and termed the league as a stepping stone for the young players to enter the national team.
Hockey India had named senior goalkeeper PR Sreejesh as the captain of the national team for the Rio Olympics, removing long-time skipper Sardar. Sreejesh was rewarded after India, under his leadership, won a silver medal at the six-nation Champions Trophy hockey tournament in London last year.
One being asked if he now plays more freely after being relieved from the burden of captaincy, Sardar said: "According to me, everyone is captain on the field. I play the way I have been. I have led the team in many tournaments and we won too. Now, it is Sreejesh who is leading the team. He is a good captain. We sit, plan and then discuss with team and then execute it."
Sardar said that 2018 will be an important year for Indian hockey before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics."Before 2020, the year 2018 is very important for us. We are going to host World Cup and it will be followed by Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Champions Trophy. The year 2018 will be packed for us but it will be a great learning curve for us ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. We just want to take one step at a time," Sardar signed off.