Hockey in danger of losing sponsors

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> India's national sport may fast lose its sponsorship deals, thanks to the interfering ways of the Indian Hockey Federation.

Updated: March 14, 2008 16:34 IST
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New Delhi:

When a hockey legend like Dhanraj Pillay says he will never let his son play hockey, you get a sense of how bleak the future of India's national sport is. And things are threatening to get much worse as sponsors could now start to pull out as a result of India's Olympic debacle.

Not even the immense popularity of the Chak De girls, who were used by ESPN to promote the Premier Hockey League (PHL), could keep the sponsors interested.

Almost all the major sponsors of PHL, including Adidas, Aquafina, ING Vysya, and Fortis have pulled out of their deals. Western Union is the only company that continues to sponsor the tournament, though apparently for only a very small amount.

It is now rumoured that ESPN are reluctant to carry on with their 10-year PHL deal. In fact, they are so annoyed that they refused to telecast India's last international series against Belgium. Typically, the IHF hasn't honoured many of its commitments.

So while ESPN has pumped in the money to make PHL glamorous and world class, KPS Gill and his team of officials insist on interfering.

The IHF apparently picks each team. There are diktats that players over 34 can't be picked. Not surprising then that the top international stars have refused to play.

K Arumugam, hockey historian and author, says "Indian hockey has an extremely poor image abroad. That's why none of the teams or stars want to come here. We've postponed tournaments like the Champions Trophy, so why would anyone want to come?

"There has never been a marketing strategy. The IHF needed to work on how to improve the profile of the game here by making players saleable commodities, playing more matches and keeping the game in the limelight. But they failed to do that."

India's fantastic 7-4 win over Pakistan in the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam in 2003 and the junior World Cup win in 2001 was one time when a hockey revival seemed certain.

That's the time that Ten Sports, who had the rights to several international hockey events promoted each individual player with nicknames - Dhanraj Pillay was the Wizard, Spiderman was goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan.

Sahara, the team sponsors, also pulled out all the stops to raise the profile of the game. And it was that promise which could have brought the 2010 World Cup to India. But the marketing agency for the governing body of hockey world wide doesn't think it is all over for India.

Jamie Stewart, Managing Director, Commune, FIH, says "I think hockey has the stars. And potentially the marketers have to position the next generation of hockey stars in an attractive fashion. We need to build those stars. But those stars will be treated out of success. So the most important thing is to get the structures in place, the programmes in. Let's face it - this is not going to happen tomorrow. It's not like putting band-aid on a sore. The whole architecture of the way the sport is run and administered needs to be re-constructed."

With Hockey no longer a priority sport in the government list, the indifference of the sponsors and the media could really hit hard. This was a time not long ago when Dhanraj was the darling of the press. Now you would struggle to find people who can name the Indian hockey captain.

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