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Is India still a Hockey Superpower?


Hockey is India’s national game. Most sports fans would be shocked at this because the sad reality is that India is primarily a 1-sport nation. Right from their days at the cradle all kids in India grow up following cricket. In fact most of them will think cricket is India’s national game. We have tasted success at world level in other sports like hockey, archery, weightlifting, powerlifting, badminton, archery, wrestling and boxing. Is India still a hockey superpower? Most romantics would say yes, while most cynics would say no.

The romantics would point to the fact that we have won 8 gold medals at the Olympics. We are famous for the Asian style of hockey which relies on flair, fantastic stickwork and brilliant dribbling skills. Our players of yesteryear like Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh, Ashok Kumar, Mohammed Shahid and Dhanraj Pillay are legends. The cynics will point to our record at recent world events and say that we are living on past laurels and reputation.

Let us examine India’s performance in the 3 main hockey tournaments before we come to a conclusion. The 3 main tournaments in hockey are the World Cup, the Olympics and the Asia Cup.

There have been 9 Asia Cups played so far, from the 1st edition in 1982 till the last edition in 2013. While on paper India’s record doesn’t look very impressive with just 2 Gold medals (2003, 2009), they have been runners up on 5 occasions (1982, 1985, 1989, 1993 and 2013), and have earned a podium finish with a bronze medal in 1999. The only occasion on which they came away empty handed was in 2009. They are only one of 3 teams to win the Asia Cup, along with Pakistan and South Korea. This impressive record at Asian level proves that they are definitely one of the powerhouses in Asia

At the Olympics, their record is even more impressive on paper.

Out of 22 Olympic Games in which hockey has been a featured sport they have won 8 Gold Medals, 1 Silver Medal and 2 bronze Medals. This means that they have won medals in 11 out of the 22 Olympic Games which is an impressive statistic. The table below contains India’s record at the Olympics.


India at the Olympic Games























But statistics are sometimes misleading, and don’t paint a true picture.

A closer inspection will show that they have won only 1 Gold medal in the last 50 years, at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. That Olympics was boycotted by most of the top Western nations because of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Moreover we failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and finished with the wooden spoon in the 2012 Olympic Games. So most of our achievements at the Olympics have been in the initial years when hockey was still a relative new sport and most nations were still learning the ropes.

Now let us move on to the most important hockey tournament of all, the World Cup

There have been 13 editions of the Hockey World Cup and India has won 1 Gold Medal in 1975, 1 Silver Medal in 1973 and a Bronze Medal in 1971. This is a very poor record for a team that was once considered the best in the world. In the 2010 World Cup we finished in the 8th position, while in the recently concluded 2014 World Cup in Holland we finished 9th beating South Korea 3-0 in the playoff for 9th and 10th position.

Some of the reasons for India’s poor performance in recent world events are the fact that they lack the fitness of their Western counterparts and that they are not robust enough. They also have a weak defense; they overdo the dribbling and don’t pass the ball quickly enough. They also have been accused of not changing with the times and playing to entertain, rather than being bull- headed and playing to win. At the recently concluded World Cup they were unlucky and deserved to finish higher than the 9th position. If they hadn’t conceded last minute goals against Belgium and England they could have finished even in the top 5.

So to conclude one might say that while they will always remain a superpower in Asia, they might struggle to make a mark on the international stage. But they have taken a step in the right direction by hiring foreign coaches who are more in sync with modern coaching methods and tactics. They have also hired a High Performance Director in Roelant Oltmans and this is a step in the right direction. As the current coach Terry Walsh said, an improvement in performance cannot happen overnight. But at least, they have taken steps in the right direction. As the players gain experience at the world level, with a little luck and the rub of the green, India can once again be amongst the medal contenders at major world hockey events. But it may be asking for too much to expect them to get back to being a global hockey giant.

Ravi Venkat

An ex-aviation man with a passion for sports and statistics. An amateur numerologist who loves travelling the world and reading espionage novels
  • T Patil

    I can’t believe an article like this needs to be written. India hasn’t been a power, let alone a superpower, since the mid nineties.
    That this fact is only being picked up in 2014 shows how far down Indian hockey is as a priority in India sports.
    Enjoy watching the world cup football and notice how many players of south asian heritage are involved.

  • T Patil

    I just reread the article. How can the author write “they overdo the dribbling and don’t pass the ball quickly enough. They also have been accused of not changing with the times and playing to entertain, rather than being bull- headed and playing to win.”
    Anyone who has watched any Indian hockey over the past ten years would tell you that India do not play to entertain. They have lost the ability to dribble a man, and instead have gone down the route of route one, long ball hockey.
    Ravi, please watch some hockey on a regular basis before writing the same old cliches.

  • Pingback: Is India still superpower for Hockey? | News Report Leads

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