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There’s trouble brewing in the small state of Indian Hockey. Or maybe it’s gold rush fever. You cannot have smoke without a fire unless it’s dry ice. What would you call that—a smoke screen? But I digress.
The launch of the World Series Hockey (League) by Nimbus Sports and The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) on Tuesday, the 28th of December, 2010 witnessed another twist in the faceoff between the FIH approved Hockey India and the Indian government recognised IHF.
Hockey India is the current arbiter of the team selections for international tournaments. (The IHF fell out of favour with the international administrative body(FIH) because of its inability to bring the men’s and women’s representation under a single umbrella.)
Hockey India will be discomfited by the signing on of virtually the entire men’s team by the WSH.
Indian captain Rajpal Singh, penalty corner specialist Sandeep Singh , star defender Sardar Singh ,Shivendra Singh, Arjun Halappa, Gurbaj Singh, Adrian D’Souza, Bharat Chetri, V S Vinaya, Bharat Chikara, Prabodh Tirkey ,Tushar Khandekar are amongst the stellar recruits.
Other recruits include V R Raghunath, Diwakar Ram, V S Vinaya, Ravipal Singh, Sarvanjit Singh, P R Sreejesh, Rupinderpal Singh, Vikram Kanth, Danish Mujtaba, Birendra Lakra, Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Mandeep Antil, Roshan Minz, S V Sunil, G M Hariprasad, Adam Sinclair and S K Kuttappa.
The WSH is modelled on the lines of the IPL. It will have 8-10 franchises. Players will be picked based on draft. 37 leading India players have been signed up. Slots for another 60 foreigners have been reserved.
The first edition is scheduled for November 2011. Players will be categorised into three brackets: Rs. 5 lacs, Rs. 7 lacs and Rs. 10 lacs. Top players can earn up to Rs. 40 – Rs. 50 lacs through additional fees and endorsements.
The Nimbus deal with the IHF is for 15 years and Rs. 30 crore has been guaranteed to the IHF irrespective of the success or failure of the league.
The first four franchises are to be extended invitations to become founding members. Financial clout will be the criteria for selection by the IHF and Nimbus Sports. The next four to six franchises will be decided based on procedures set up.
The launch of the WSH has set off reverberations in neighbouring Pakistan. Top hockey exponents there have expressed interest in participating in the league.
Pakistani players have visited India before for the now-defunct Premier Hockey League.
Nimbus chairman Harish Thawani has said that the league will welcome players from Pakistan provided it gets the go-ahead from the government authorities to do so.
For the national sport, this is a bonanza that will benefit the cash and awards starved players. Cricket has been the major beneficiary of sponsorship from the corporate giants. Though the scale of payments may not be as humongous as offered to cricketers, there is enough in the pot to secure a decent future for existing players.
Sandeep Singh, the ace penalty corner specialist, said: “Something like the World Series Hockey is happening in India for the first time.”
Asked about risking omission from the national team, he replied “If I am good enough for India, I will be selected.”
The question that is on everybody’s mind: Will Hockey India play spoiler? The administrative body has said that it will not ban players as long as they fulfil their national commitments. What exactly do these commitments entail is not spelt out. The situation could get a whole lot messier and uglier before it gets better.
Hockey India may not be able to wield as much influence with the Indian hockey players , unlike the BCCI. The BCCI, the richest sports body in the country, was able to retain its top players in the face of rebellion facilitated by the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL). The BCCI used its money power to arm-twist the ICC and effected a ban on players participating in the ICL. It is unlikely that Hockey India will be able to do something similar.
However, pressure from the player’s employers may be a factor that could result in desertions by players despite having signed the contracted dotted line. Most sportspersons in India depend on their organizations to support their sporting activities. Hockey players are no exceptions to the rule.
It is believed that Haryana Police and Air India have expressed misgivings about their employees participating in the WSH.
As one unnamed player expressed, “An India cap may still be for just a few years but everyone needs job security in the long term.”
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