Bhopal: The national hockey championship is being played in this Madhya Pradesh capital but there is no team to represent the state, thanks to the warring factions in the state association. Only a bunch of trainees from an academy are making a token appearance. The sport is in ruins, bemoan old-timers.
Bhopal was once a nursery of Indian hockey, producing a pleasing brand of classical players, and today it is the hub of three warring factions denying the state a place in the national championship.
The old-timers watching the nationals here are saddened that the state which has given the country some of the finest Olympians is witnessing the spectacle of infighting among administrators who "are out to destroy the sport".
"It is sad that there was no Bhopal team in the All-India Obaidullah Gold Cup. Even our players who should be playing in the national championship are not able to compete. The government has done a great job reviving hockey, but the administrators need to stop fighting and unite, otherwise the sport will die," says Sharifuddin, one of the greats of Bhopal hockey.
They all admit that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has taken many steps to revive the sport and admire his initiative last year to resurrect one of the oldest hockey tournaments in India -- the All-India Obaidullah Gold Cup -- after eight years. Again, sadly there was no Bhopal team to participate in its own bastion.
In the ongoing national championship, many Bhopal players could not get to play for the state as the Madhya Pradesh Academy (MPA) has filled in for the host state. A pity, as this is the place which has produced that mercurial dribbler Inamur Rehman, World Cup-winning Aslam Sher Khan and Olympian Jalaluddin Rizvi, to name only the most famous.
The Hockey India constitution stipulates that only a composite unit can represent a state and so the three factions must come together to find an amicable solution to merge.
"We request the chief minister to see that Bhopal is not left out from the All-India Obaidullah Gold Cup," 70-year-old Sharifuddin, who played in the national championship from 1957-1973, told IANS, wistfully remembering the city's glory days.
"We have many young players who have a bright future. They should get a chance to play in the national championship," he says.
Sharifuddin does not have to look beyond his family and his neighbourhood to name quite a few talented youngsters. Hockey is still flourishing in his family that has produced more then 15 players, including his two sons Shahbuddin and Haseebuddin.
Now his grandson Shahbajuddin plays at the under-17 level and participated in the junior nationals in Mumbai earlier this year.
"I don't need to ask them to play hockey, it is a tradition in our family. They see the elders and start playing," says Sharifuddin, who played as a right back.
Shahbuddin, reflecting in the glory of Kazi Hata in Jahangirabad, where the family resides, says "three players in the state junior team were from this place".
"If we don't play, who will play hockey? We can't leave the sport in bad times. Today, hockey is kept alive by families where the sport is a way of life."
The narrow lanes of Jahangirabad have several hockey stories to narrate. A small ground of an old club - Sikandariah - has been thrown up several national and international players. Around 40 families stay here and hockey is a binding force for them.
"We have all learnt our hockey on this ground," says Madhya Pradesh Police coach Imtiyazuddin, son of Sharifuddin's elder brother Nuruddin, who was also a national player.
Sharifuddin goes back in time to recollect the olden days and brings out an old popular magazine, Sports and Pastime dated June 16, 1962, that had his picture on the cover. Those were the days when hockey pictures used to be on the cover pages of magazines.
"At that time there were four to five players fighting for one position. The competition to get into the national team was so tough. Today you will not find one good player for one position," says Sharifuddin, who has also played four seasons for Mohun Bagan in the Calcutta league and was adjudged the best player in 1963.
"We had players like Ahmed Sher Khan, father of Aslam, and Ehsan Mohammad who were the first two from the city to play in the Olympics."
"Today, there is no art in hockey, the sport been robbed of its beauty."
Would his generation of skilful players have survived in this synthetic turf era? Pat comes the reply: "We would have ruled the game had we played on synthetic turf, our generation played on such uneven grounds. We had the power and stamina to last the entire match that you need on a synthetic pitch. Today's players lack fitness, they cannot last more that 20 minutes."
Asked about the financial state of the former players, he said: "Not everyone is financially well-off. I would request the state government to start a pension scheme on the lines of the Uttar Pradesh government's for hockey players."