The vast majority of spectators went back with the feeling that a day out at the Hero Honda FIH World Cup hockey in the Maj. Dhyan Chand National Stadium offered a great value for money experience – not just because India defeated Pakistan 4-1 in an intense contest or England upset Australia but also because they enjoyed the whole gamut of spectating.
As soon as he heard from his friends that tickets were available for the evening’s hockey games, Dr. Anil Bhat convinced his wife Dr. Sujatha Bhat and their daughter Aakanksha to give up the idea of watching a movie in favour of turning up at the National Stadium to watch the big contest. Fortunately for him, he did not have to deal with any hesitation.
I got to speak with Dr. Anil Bhat at breakfast on Holi and was pleasantly surprised to hear that the security did not stifle the spectators’ enthusiasm. “On the contrary, the levels of security were the same as I would expect at international airports – X-ray machines, metal detectors and frisking – and nothing that can be termed excessive,” he said. “We spotted Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and actor Gul Panag in the same stand as us. And I am sure they came through the same process as all of us and had no complaints.”
He was only echoing what the grand old man of Indian hockey, triple Olympic gold medal winner Balbir Singh Sr. said about the levels of security. “Keeping in mind the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the arrangements made by the organisers for the Hero Honda FIH Word Cup are appropriate. I believe the security of the players is of paramount importance in itself and to the image of our country,” he said.
To revert to my conversation with Dr. Bhat, a full 12 hours and more after he left the National Stadium with his family and friends, he was radiating a joy that only Indian sporting conquests have the ability to place on thousands of faces in one go – and on the faces of the lakhs of fans who tune in to radio commentary or watch the live telecast.
Dr Sujatha Bhat, who was a first timer at a sporting event of this magnitude, did not lose time in becoming the part of the massive crowd. “We were disappointed that we had not carried the Indian flags with us but soon discovered that we could have our faces painted with the colours of our National flag for just Rs 25,” she said.
The Bhats’ daughter, Aakanksha pointed out that there was no better feeling than standing in a stadium and singing the National Anthem along with thousands of fellow Indians and cheering their favourite team to victory. “It was truly an experience of a lifetime,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“There was plenty of food and beverage available and we could even carry our coffee cups to the galleries,” Dr. Anil Bhat said. “What’s more, the toilets were clean and a far cry from what we expect at our sports facilities. If anything, we would have liked to see huge board that listed the names of players on the field.”
Clearly, the Indian team has given the sport’s administrators another chance to raise the profile of hockey in the collective consciousness of the nation. The win on Sunday night and the beautiful feeling spilling over to the celebrations of Holi showed that fans love it when they get the chance to cheer a spirited Indian team.
The squad needs to deliver positive results consistently in such high profile events for it to remain in the public eye. The challenge before the sport’s administrators is to ensure that they schedule the calendar for the team that it plays often enough.
This piece was written for www.stick2hockey.com