New Delhi: Pained by the steady decline of Indian hockey over the years, the legendary Balbir Singh Sr has drawn up a roadmap, which includes an innovative three-tier league, to help the country regain lost glory.
The iconic centre-forward, who won gold medals at the 1948 (London), 1952 (Helsinki) and 1956 (Melbourne) Olympics, said it was imperative for India to quickly put a revival plan in place to raise the standard of hockey which is "very bad and disappointing" at the moment.
Balbir reckons that factional tension, lack of trained coaches at the grassroot level and absence of systematic national league were three primary concerns for Indian hockey at the moment.
"I have prepared a scheme of a national hockey league. We should hold it once a year and finish it within a month," Balbir Sr said during an interaction with PTI journalists
Elaborating on his well-structured plan, he said it was a three-tier league like most of the top soccer leagues across various countries.
"Instead of conducting national championship, we can have a national league with atleast 30 teams dividing them into three divisions as per their merit. It will be like rankings 1-10 in the top division followed by 11-20 and then 21-30. There should be promotion and relegation. It's not like Punjab playing Mizoram but well-matched teams pitted against each other."
Balbir Sr also recommended that good cash incentive should be given according to the performance of the teams.
"Cash awards should be there at every stage because players want money and their parents also need financial assistance. Cash awards should be given according to their standings, their rankings in the national ranking system", he said.
"The coaches should be paid according to the performance of their respective teams. The states should be given benefits according to their rankings in the national league," Balbir Sr said.
Balbir, who will be celebrating his 90th birthday next month, said that he has not yet discussed his action plan with the HI authorities. "I haven't discussed anywhere. They never asked me. If they ask me, I am always available," he said.
The legendary player did not seem too happy with the idea of roping in foreign coaches.
"There are very good foreign coaches but they are over-qualified for our conditions. We must get our intelligent coaches, educated ones to train abroad and they should get the
state of the art training. So when they come back, they can continue till they retire," he stated.
Balbir Sr feels that foreign coaches only take fat pay cheques and the output has been very little.
"Now, foreign coaches come, take salaries and go back. Sorry to say that. If we can get our own coaches trained, get all the training facilities abroad, they can come back, serve the country, then they will feel honoured to have served the country. We have talent, our boys are good but we lack in training and physical fitness. We should be among the top 4-5 teams and we deserve to be there."
The veteran said the continuous feud between two rival factions Hockey India (HI) and Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) also played a part in the decline of hockey.
"(Firstly) Unfortunately, there are two federations. One is HI and the other is IHF. Because of this division, our hockey has suffered a lot," Balbir said.
"The second reason would be lack of trained coaches. We have qualified coaches but these days, a lot of foreign coaches come and train in their style. We should get our coaches trained, so that we can produce many more coaches."
Balbir was also unhappy with the "step-motherly treatment meted out to hockey players".
"We have given hockey step motherly treatment. Among other sports, No.1 is cricket and it is in the limelight. The players are highly paid and treated like actors."
The third and most important reason, according to him, is the absence of a proper national hockey league where the top players will be pitted against each other in competitive
Although he is in favour of a separate national league, Balbir is not averse to the idea of cash-rich Hockey India League (HIL).
"I have no problems with HIL as any type of league means competitive matches which is very important."
He is pained at the current plight of Indian hockey and the team finishing last in the London Olympics.
"Very bad (about standard). I didn't want to use this word but I feel dejected. I am sad. During London Olympics, they were honouring me for my contribution to Indian hockey. I was interviewed by the BBC in London about India's chances. I said that I want them to win gold but would be satisfied with top six finish. And we ended at the bottom without winning a single match. I was shocked."
"Balbirs come and Balbirs go but it's the country that stays forever. India comes first. Country is more important and not Balbirs," he explained.
The 89-year-old player, who has the dictinction of being the flag bearer of the Indian contingent in two Olympic Games, also urged the corporate sector to back the game which has given India the maximum number of Olympians as well as gold medals at the quadrennial extravaganza.
"The corporate sector must also contribute. The central government can't always afford what corporate sectors can afford. I also want youngsters to study hard as academics can't be ignored at any cost. You need a job in order to earn your living. Their should also be scholarships introduced in schools to help the outstanding sportspersons."
"Play as much as you want but not at the cost of your qualification. I want a system to be introduced for sportsperson where they would only get benefits if they are able to pass their exams. We don't want to make professionals
only but we also want to see them as good officers"