This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Hockey in the country is set to get a massive leg-up as the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL) kickstarts across five venues – Delhi, Lucknow, Jalandhar, Mumbai and Ranchi , beginning January 14.
The much-hyped league is expected to give a fresh leash of life to the sport, which has taken some significant strides following the disastrous London Olympics campaign, with the national team showing sparks of hope with creditable performances in the 34th Champions Trophy and the Asian Champions Trophy.
The success of any tournament hinges a lot on how much of a helping hand it gets from the sponsors - Hockey India seems to have done their job on this front, announcing a multi-year sponsorship deal with two-wheeler major Hero MotorCorp. “We have inked a three-year deal with Hero MotorCorp. They will be our title sponsor of the league. We are extremely happy to be associated with them,” Hockey India secretary Narindra Batra told Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
In fact, this is not the first time that Hero has come forward to sponsor a hockey event. They were the title sponsors of the 2012 Olympics qualifier tournament as well as the 2010 World Cup, both held in New Delhi.
Hockey India had weathered much criticism from all quarters after India’s wooden spoon finish in the 2012 London Olympics. But the national men’s team’s eye-catching showing in both the FIH 34th Champions Trophy and Asian Champions Trophy tournaments seems to have reignited hopes among the hockey fans about the sport climbing up the performance ladder. Batra puts things in perspective. “We finished 11th in London and I agree that kind of performance was unacceptable but you got to move on and initiate corrective measures. I don’t really think about who is criticizing or praising me; I believe in being constructive. I try to do the job to the best of my ability,” Batra quipped.
How does he assess India’s performance graph in the FIH 34th Champions Trophy and Asian Champions Trophy tournaments? “Of course, we try to draw positives from every tournament but I’m more focused on the bigger picture of India being one of the world’s top sides,” he said.
The HI secretary has set realistic targets for the national men’s team. “I would like to see India among the top-6 by 2013-end or early 2014 and among the top-4 during the 2014-2016 period,” he observed.
Does he really think that the Hockey India League can change the landscape of hockey in the country? “Well, that’s our aim. We hope it does. We want to see more astroturfs across the country and more youngsters taking up the game.”
The Indian Premier League took the country by storm. And Hockey India would be hoping that the HIL becomes a crowd-puller. “We want to fill the void after IPL. Let us hope the HIL is a big draw,” he sounded upbeat.
One question that every hockey fan wants is to see one hockey body running the sport in the country as one unit. Batra is quick to react. “There is only one hockey body in the country. All have merged with Hockey India,” he said emphatically.
Batra is also the treasurer of the Delhi Disrict Cricket Association. How does he juggle both cricket and hockey? “I am not actively involved in the day-to-day activities of DDCA. I am fully occupied with Hockey India,” he clears the air.
India continued to languish at 11th position in FIH world rankings even after India’s fourth place finish in the 34th Champions Trophy, even as bronze medallist Pakistan surged five spots to be placed fifth. Batra is bullish about India moving up in the rankings. “We are not too bothered about it. We will surely climb up when the next FIH rankings are announced,” he concluded.