Though cricket has ruled the roost as India’s premier passion for the last few decades, the tide may be turning back towards field hockey. Despite ceding ground, field hockey has retained its niche as the original sporting love for generations of Indians.
Its prestigious history of winning Olympic golds and World Cups instills national pride to this day. Recent resurgences like the men’s team’s 2020 Olympic podium finish have already piqued the interest of many locals.
Let’s have a closer look at field hockey’s popularity in India.
Quick Look at Field Hockey’s History in India
Field hockey was introduced to India during British colonial rule in the early 20th century. The sport quickly gained popularity, especially in the Indian army. It was most likely due to the availability of open spaces to play this sport and that it doesn’t require complicated equipment.
India’s first hockey clubs emerged in the 1850s in cities like Calcutta and Bombay. Meanwhile, national tournaments like the Beighton Cup (1892) and the Aga Khan tournament (1898) further boosted the locals’ interest in this sport, especially in the states of Bombay and Punjab.
The Indian Hockey Federation was then formed in 1925 to govern the sport. It was in the 1920s when India won its first Olympic gold for field hockey. All in all, India has a total of 8 Olympic golds in this sport. The latest one was won in 1980.
How Popular Is Field Hockey in India Today?
Despite cricket’s dominance, field hockey still enjoys a loyal following in India. The Indian team’s bronze medal at the 2020 Olympics somehow promoted the sport again, and so many locals have been giving it some attention.
With its popularity also comes the interest in field hockey betting. Many of the biggest sports betting platforms in the country today including 10CRIC, Bet365, and Betway are now offering odds on this sport.
India remains field hockey’s most successful team with 83 Olympic match wins out of 134 played. But aside from the Olympics, here’s a look at some of the biggest tournaments the national team has participated in:
Sultan Azlan Shah Cup:
Named after the ninth king of Malaysia, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is an annual men’s field hockey tournament held in Ipoh, Malaysia. This was first held in 1983 and has since become one of the most prestigious field hockey tournaments in the world.
India has won the tournament five times, with the most recent win coming in 2010
Hockey India League:
The Hockey India League (HIL) was a professional men’s field hockey league in India that ran from 2013 to 2017. The league featured six teams representing different cities in India and was known for its fast-paced and exciting gameplay.
This tournament was a major boost for Indian field hockey, as it provided a platform for young players to showcase their skills and learn from international players.
The Champions Trophy is an annual men’s field hockey tournament organized by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). The tournament features the top six field hockey teams in the world and is considered one of the most prestigious field hockey tournaments after the Olympics and the World Cup. India has won the tournament once, in 2016
Hockey World Cup:
The Hockey World Cup is an international men’s field hockey tournament organized by the FIH. The tournament features the top field hockey teams from around the world and is held every four years. India has hosted the tournament once, in 2018, and finished in sixth place 7.
The Asian Games is a multi-sport event held every four years, and Field hockey has been a part of it since 1958. Since its founding, India’s national field hockey team has won the gold medal eight times, the most recent being in 1998.
Most Popular Field Hockey Players in the Country
With India’s national team having been part of the biggest field hockey events, several star players have established their names in the field. Here’s a look at some of them:
Dhyan Chand: Known as “The Magician of Field Hockey,” Dhyan Chand is one of the greatest hockey players from India. He is remembered for his three Olympic gold medals and for his ability to control the ball. Following his army service, the Padma Bhushan awardee switched from wrestling to hockey.
Sandeep Singh: Sandeep Singh is an Indian field hockey player who led the Indian team in the 2009 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where his team defeated Malaysia in the finals. He was honored with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2010. In addition, his life inspired the 2018 biographical film, Soorma.
Harmanpreet Singh: Harmanpreet Singh is another popular local name and plays as a defender. He was part of the Indian team that won the bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Singh has also won the FIH Rising Star of the Year award in 2016.
This year, field hockey fans can look forward to field hockey events that will be held in different parts of India including the 6th Khelo India Youth Games, 80th Mahant Raja Sarweshwardas Memorial All India Hockey Tournament, and the 34th Lal Bahadur Shastri Hockey Tournament 2024 that will be held later this year.
While field hockey’s local calendar isn’t as busy as cricket’s, it’s safe to say that this sport might gain more followers this year. It’s an exciting year for field hockey fans out there.