When it was a pride to play hockey
Sri Lanka has produced several sportsmen who excelled in various sporting disciplines. Hockey was right up there which dominated until the late 80s in this tiny Island-Sri Lanka also known as the Pearl of Indian Ocean. Tragically the sport is now in a pathetic state more or less like an orphan as there is no one to take care of it.
A game which has a proud history of over 4,000 years was initially launched and dominated by the Englishmen. It later gradually spread into the Asian region. At present, Asians are giants of the game with India and Pakistan on top while Sri Lanka which was on par with them, has faced a drastic decline in the last three decades.
At present the Hockey Federation remains dissolved without an active committee and is under the purview of the Sports Ministry. As per the hockey loving public and the stakeholders specially the former players, this association has been utilized for other purposes and to rotate the top chair for power rather than achieving the stipulated goals enabling it to be taken to next level.
According to former players and officials who served this Association for the love and the passion of the game, there is a big mafia behind this Association which is manipulated and dominated by some police officers, who have not touched even a hockey stick but have travelled overseas and enjoyed a good time under the guise of tournaments.
They have used their power in obtaining the votes for their sustenance in this body rather than working to a calendar forecasting their plans. The last few years have been a barren sheet when it comes to their activities where they have become like a headless chicken. Due to the dictatorship of some of the top brass in the association the players of yesteryear who donned the jersey for their country at both local and international competition have kept away citing a lost cause as the so-called custodians of the sport are focused more on other own agendas rather than welfare of the game.
India and Pakistan were the two giants of world hockey from 1940 to 1960. Both India and Pakistan dominated the game and kept the momentum on to become champions in World Cups and Olympic Games during an era when the game was played at a high standard in South Asia.
After India won the Olympics they eventually visited the tiny Island of Sri Lanka for a tour. Then the Indians won 1-0 in a closely contested game against the Sri Lankans where the standard of the local camp was equally good as that of the Indians. While they matured gradually from strength to strength the game here at home swung the other way around and the Indians crushed Sri Lanka by huge margins, including at the Asian Games 21-0.
Moreover, in the 1960s Sri Lanka defeated Malaysia and remained one of the top teams in the region. After the ‘70s the standard started plunging and the Malaysians managed to hold the Sri Lankans and force a draw. After another ten years in the 80s Malaysia started developing their domestic structure and emerged as a top team and went on to beat Sri Lanka. They finally reached the pinnacle in Asia by the 90s and even at present. Malaysia is one of the strong contenders, winning games by large margins like 9-0 and 10-0.
In the earlier days, Sri Lanka’s hockey teams were selected to play the Asia Cup along with India, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, China and Malaysia as they were on par with them on performance, but due to inconsistency and improperly conducted tournaments, the Sri Lankans are now relegated and bracketed by the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) with low ranked Iran, Kazakhstan, Oman, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Myanmar, Hong Kong and Bangladesh. What is worse is that Sri Lanka cannot win even against these low ranked countries.
Tracing its origins, hockey is a team game played with curved sticks and a ball which is called the hockey. The roots of hockey are buried deep in antiquity. Historical records show that a crude form of the game was played in Egypt 4,000 years ago and in Ethiopia around 1,000BC, while an ancient form of the game was also played in Iran in around 2,000BC. Various museums offer evidence that a form of the game was played by the Romans and Greeks as well as by the Aztecs several centuries before Columbus arrived in the New World. The modern game of hockey emerged in England in the mid-18th century and is largely attributed to the growth of public schools, such as Eton. The first Hockey Association was formed in the UK in 1876 and drew up the first formal set of rules. The original association survived for just six years but in 1886, it was revived by nine founding member clubs.
The inaugural Olympic Hockey Competition for men was held in London in 1908 with England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales competing separately. With the addition of Germany and France, the competition ran with six teams. After having made its first appearance at the London Games, hockey was subsequently dropped from the 1912 Stockholm Games after host nations were granted control over ‘optional sports’. It reappeared in 1920 in Antwerp after pressure from Belgian hockey advocates before being omitted again in Paris in 1924.
The formation of the International Hockey Federation in 1924 was not soon enough for the Paris Olympics but it did grant hockey re-entry in Amsterdam in 1928. Hockey has been on the programme ever since, with women’s hockey included for the first time at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
Hockey players and followers in Sri Lanka say there is just one last chance left to resurrect the sports with the intervention of the current Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa to whom wearing the National rugby jersey was uncompromised honour.