New Delhi:It's ironic that the sports ministry's move to downgrade hockey from its priority list came on the same day the team had reached the semi-finals of the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.
The move, of course, has the entire hockey fraternity and fans up in arms. But the sports minister says it's only the result of a very objective system based on some very poor past performances.
"I don't think Mr Gill will have any sleepless nights over a depleting bank balance," said Mani Shankar Aiyar, Minister for Sports.
Indeed, his sleepless nights should actually be over how to improve the standards and popularity of hockey in India. Because that is the only way the sports minister says the game will make it back to list of priority sports.
It was for the first time in Asian Games history that hockey failed to win a medal at the Doha Asiad.
Former Olympians admit the standard of hockey is woefully low in India, but add that demoting it is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater
"The government should take steps to improve the functioning of the Indian Hockey Federation. Demoting the sport is a wrong way to handle the things," said Pargat Singh, Former Captain, India.
This is the first time men's hockey has been taken off the priority list, a move that will cut the annual grant by half for a sport that was once the national game. But considering recent performances, the eight-times Olympic champions are in danger of missing the Games for the first time.
India finished 11th out of 12 teams at last September's World Cup, and were sixth at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and last in the elite Champions Trophy on home soil.
The Indian Hockey Federation for its part seems quite unperturbed by the demotion saying that they weren't getting much financial assistance from the government anyway.
"There are thousands of youngsters who play hockey for love of the game and not just money. That is what encourages them and improves the standard of the game," said KPS Gill, President, Indian Hockey Federation.
Gill is now all set to ask for more support from the corporate sector. Of course if that financial backing actually does help improve the quality of hockey in India, it will be right back as a priority for the government. So the ball really is in the IHF's court.