Hockey WC 2023: Children of unequal Gods

At the World Cup, inequality doesn't just exist in terms of skills. Off the field, some players are paid to play, others have their travel taken care of while a few pay to play.

Published: 18th January 2023 01:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th January 2023 01:09 AM   |  A+A-

Indian captain Manpreet Singh (R) and Samsher Singh train during a practice session ahead of their match against Wales in the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup 2023. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: On Thursday night, Wales face India in Pool D's final match. If this was a boxing bout, it wouldn't even go ahead for the sides belong in different weight classes. Wales, World Cup debutants and rookies, are flyweights. India, veterans and 15-time participants, are super heavyweights.

Off the field, the inequality becomes all the more galling. They will play at the Kalinga Stadium, a venue that can house 15000 (Wales' national stadium has seats for around 200). While Indian players are housed in state-of-the-art facilities in Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar or, from this year, Rourkela, Welsh players have to consider something more fundamental. Raising more than 1000 pounds (roughly Rs 1 lakh) every year.

Less than 24 hours after the mismatch in Bhubaneswar, another mismatch will take place, this time in Rourkela: South Africa vs Australia. While the Australian players can rely on the support of the government for travel, the South Africans who have come here have had to pay approximately 50,000 rand (Rs 2.39 lakh approx).

Custodian Gowan Jones was extremely intimate when speaking about this situation. "If we get given what we deserve, then these kinds of tight games could just end up in our favour," he said after his side went down 1-2 against Argentina. "It's tough. We have to concentrate on jobs, concentrate on training and concentrate on raising money. Each of us were told to look at (raising) 50,000 rand (to be here). People outside hockey can't believe that you have to pay to represent your country. Our rugby captain earns 50,000 rand a month. I gotta pay that money to be here. It doesn't make sense. We got the same badge and the same national anthem. Things have got to change."

So, why do the players do what they do? Playing with mates in front of full houses deriving happiness from getting to do what they love the most. James Carson, who scored Wales men's first-ever World Cup goal, opens up. "I wouldn't change it for the world," he says. "During the week, we work from 9-5. We have to fit in gym sessions somewhere, whether it be in the morning, afternoon or evening. It's a tough gig but you get rewarded by competitions like this. It's an unbelievable experience."

"In a typical week for me, I work as a teacher from 8.00 AM to 6.00 PM. Apart from that, we have our gym sessions, and club hockey where we train Tuesday and Thursday nights before weekend matches. It's tough but I know that every other member of our team is putting in the same amount of hard work. We are all accountants or teachers or lecturers so we come together for the weekend."

India, their opposition on Thursday, train together for over 200 days in a year, excluding the time they spend training during tournaments. While the players don't have a central contract, they are all compensated by the institutions and companies (railways, banks and so on) they represent. Hockey India will also pay them Rs 50,000 for each match they win at the World Cup. A far cry from the lakh or so most Welsh players have had to pay every year.

For people on the outside, it may come as a shock -- Carson admits that people are shocked that the team has to pay to represent the country -- but within the setup, they take it on their chin. "No one wants to step away because of it, it's what brings them happiness (playing)," says Wales coach Daniel Newcombe. And, no, there is no added pressure because of this. Here's Wales captain Rupert Shipperley. "Never been about pressure just because we are investing in the programme. We are all friends, no hard feelings."

To an extent, there is inequality even in elite hockey. Australia may be one of the most decorated sides but their setup is also amateur. There is a centralised training system wherein the selected players move to Perth but they don't get paid for representing their country. "It's completely amateur in Australia," goalkeeper Andrew Charter says. "We have full-time jobs, train in the morning, go home and go to work. We have very understanding employers. I work for a mining company and they give me the leaves I need. We all move to Perth once we get selected. We don't get paid but the Australian government supports us and pays for these trips. Our sponsors too support us."

One team that does pay its players is England, whose centrally contracted players receive at least 20,000 pounds per year (estimated figures according to BBC in 2015). New Zealand is another side that pays its players. According to an agreement between Hockey New Zealand and Hockey Players Association, "... we’re excited about the future of Hockey in New Zealand and our Vantage Black Sticks play a key role in growing our game," the body posted on their website in December. "It also sees Vantage Black Sticks players receiving a share of 25% of all HNZ player-generated commercial revenue, an increased percentage share from the previous agreement. This contribution, when combined with targeted funding that HNZ receives from High-Performance Sport NZ, will see men and women players receive a share of $ 2 million over the two-year term ($1 million per year) through the Player Payment Fund."

They opened their campaign with a 3-1 win over debutants Chile, where the setup is like that of a start-up when compared to the Black Sticks. They don't have to pay to play but players use a pooled fund they can use if they go abroad. This same fund is used to buy goalkeeper equipment and so on and there is nobody who's centrally contracted. Over the next few weeks, this financial disparity between the haves and have-nots will continue to be on display.

How funding works at this World Cup
(Select teams)

India -- No central contract. Not paid to play but significant monetary incentives. Players don't have full-time employment but are paid by the institutions they represent.

Australia -- Not paid to play but have government support to travel. Have full-time jobs elsewhere but do have a centralised training programme in Perth.

Wales -- Players have to pay to play (works out to be about half of all costs in a trip). Meet once a week and are employed elsewhere on a full-time basis.

South Africa -- Played have paid roughly 50,000 rand to be here.

New Zealand -- Players are centrally contracted

England -- Players are centrally contracted

Chile -- Do not pay to play but players have access to a central pool that players can utilise to buy equipment or if they want to travel abroad

India Matters


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