BANGALORE: Crowds at the World Series Hockey matches at the Karnataka State Hockey Association (KSHA) Stadium have been a revelation. From day one, the stands have been packed; more so on weekends. Time was when tickets at the Sullivan Police grounds were priced at 50 paise or Rs 1 for local matches. Top teams like Tatas and Border Security Force or Punjab Police were a big draw in tournaments like the Maharaja’s Cup.
The National championship for the Rangaswamy Cup was played at the same venue in 1985-86 and the final between star-studded Indian Railways and Indian Airlines with players like Zafar Iqbal, Ashok Kumar, Mervyn Fernandes and a host of others lining up on either side for a late afternoon game, for DD’s benefit, saw a jam-packed ground enjoy the game.
The KSHA moved over to the new premises in the early 90s and thanks to the conduct of the National Games in 1996-97, the stadium got a huge facelift. The senior division league was opened up for outstation teams’ participation. IOC, BPCL, Namdhari XI all came with good sides but the crown response was nothing to shout out about.
When the Premier League Hockey (PHL) was launched about a year or so later, Karnataka was not considered a venue as the it did not have proper floodlights, though the Bangalore Lions went on to emerge as the champions. Like the Rangaswamy Cup, the PHL was also abandoned by the IHF and major domestic tournaments was a thing of the past.
Now with the KSHA President R K Shetty also heading the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), the original faction which was de-recognised in great hurry by the IOA in 2008 and which is fighting a legal battle with Hockey India on its official status, the World Series Hockey was launched.
Floodlighting facilities have been upgraded to international standards and the KSHA Stadium is now ready to host any international game. Players from Australia, Pakistan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Germany, England and other countries are a part of many of the World Series Hockey (WSH) teams and their presence has surely brought the crowds back to the galleries.
It is rather unfortunate that the running feud between the IHF and HI (Hockey India) has ensured that top Indian stars are not part of the WSH. All of them without exception had signed contracts to figure in the WSH but have back-tracked forcing the IHF to even issue legal notices to some. Surprisingly, some of the players called for the Indian team’s camp continue to figure for some teams while some others have chosen to stay away. Their absence has robbed the WSH of a lot of glamour for sure. Legendary stars like Dhanraj Pillai still command a following and have more than made up for the others’ absence.
The FIH has also complicated matters by stating that those who play in the WSH will be suspended. It remains to be seen if the FIH has the guts and gumption to suspend players from Pakistan or Australia or Germany who have been in action in the WSH if they were to be selected by their federations for the Olympic Games hockey tournament.
In any case, the WSH has done enough to arouse interest in the game in Bangalore and Karnataka. The crowds have proven this without any shadow of doubt. They have enjoyed the game, the music, lights, cheer girls’ performance and long for more.
Sporting stars and Olympians like Prakash Padukone (badminton), Joaquim Carvalho (hockey), Ahmed Hussain (football), Trupti Murgunde (badminton), Pankaj Advani (cue sports) have also witnessed some matches to lend their support. As former India captain and coach M P Ganesh said: “The WSH has given hockey in Karnataka a re-birth. I hope the Karnataka Lions team do better so that more people come out to support them and the game. We must take this initiative forward and resurrect the game in the state.”