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Fact check: Is hockey really our national game?

Mumbai: “Children and fools tell the truth”. True. For in our story, it was a 12-year-old girl who caused the priceless revelation. In the year 2012, Aishwarya Parashar, filed a Right to Information (RTI) request to the Prime Minister’s Office to get certified copies of orders related to the declaration of the national anthem, sport, song, bird, animal, flower and the country’s symbol.

In the process, when the query about the national sport was forwarded to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, the ministry confirmed that it had not declared any sport or game as the national game. Fast forward to today, almost all the countries are familiar with their respective national symbols. We could have been too.

But till date, we have no clue as to what is India’s national sport. For the longest of time, hockey was considered our national game. Sadly or not, today—National Sports Day—we have no other option but to take all the sports as our national sports.

The biggest unanswered question that remains is: why was hockey considered as the national game in the first place? There are reasons for us to believe so.

The most prominent of all that stands out at this juncture is that we Indians dominated the game, especially at the Olympics right from the start when we made our debut at the Summer Games in the year 1928.

And from then on, there was no stopping for almost six decades when we went on to win six gold medals and thus, became a household name. The year 1928-1980 has been a golden year for the game.

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However, lately hockey has been a major disappointment on the international stage, despite the fact that we rank fifth in the world. With time, we have also come to realise that success is not the best criterion for deciding the national sport of any country.

This is probably why hockey doesn’t qualify to receive that honour yet. So, the next criterion could be popularity, as cited by cricket lovers of India. But cricket wasn’t popular enough among Indians before the iconic win of 1983 World Cup.

Also, things could change again and another sport could become more popular than cricket. Therefore, popularity shouldn’t be the right yardstick to give any game the status as crucial as that of National Sport of a nation.

Accessibility is another factor that determines which game could achieve the said status. Hockey and cricket, both are expensive sports. While hockey requires one stick per player and also a synthetic playing surface, cricket requires a bat and a ball, besides other gears including gloves, shoes and helmet.

This is particularly relevant in our case as a large section of India’s population is underprivileged and doesn’t have the means to even a square meal a day, let alone the sports gear.

The very factor makes most sports inaccessible to a major portion of the population. Football, on the other hand, is a relatively inexpensive sport. You only need one ball for two teams to play with.

In addition, you can find young boys playing football with a coconut shell or a plastic bottle in many narrow lanes and bylanes even when they don’t have access to a ball.

Alas, India barely has any place on the international football scene. Even though popularity of local clubs does the rounds, international success is integral/ pivotal for a sport to be named a national game.

That rules out football. Now, the only criterion that remains is ‘cultural relevance’. But thanks to the deep-seated diversity in Indian culture, the very deciding factor make it difficult to pick one sport significance for all cultures.

In the meantime, until someone comes up, we may have to live considering cricket as our national game and read about hockey which was once assumed as our National Game.

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