Kids with sticks dribble balls, weave and bob in Sansarpur, the cradle of Indian field hockey. But the village’s glory days, as well as those of the national team, are a thing of the past.
India crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage on Sunday, the latest in a series of humiliations for a country that won six consecutive Olympic golds between 1928 and 1956.
Watching the children train and ruing the sport’s sad decline is medal-winner Balbir Singh Kular, one of no fewer than 14 Olympic hockey players produced by Sansarpur in northern India.
“We failed because we didn’t change ourselves and we thought we have been winning gold,” 79-year-old Balbir told AFP.
“Starting with grounds, equipment, infrastructure and rules, they all keep changing. Another big change was when astroturf came but you can’t make excuses,” he said.
India has won eight Olympic gold medals, but its last was in 1980. In the 2008 Olympics, India failed to even qualify.
The team has won just one World Cup since the competition began in 1971.
Until the 1980s hockey packed out stadiums and was played in streets across India, but it has now become a single-column story in national newspapers.
It has been eclipsed by cricket and faces competition for eyeballs from football and even kabaddi, a traditional village sport with its own franchise tournament and glamorous stars.
The reasons for the decline of Indian hockey are many and include poor administration and a lack of facilities, particularly artificial astroturf pitches.
This new surface, as well as changes to the rules, put Indians at a disadvantage with their style of play and favoured better-funded and equipped nations like Australia and Belgium.
In Sansarpur, former player and author Popinder Singh Kular blamed the decline of talent from the village on families moving abroad in search of better economic opportunities than hockey can provide.
“The rise and fall comes in life and in hockey. There is improvement in Indian hockey but in Sansarpur it so happened that families, which produced top players, moved out of this village and many went overseas,” Popinder told AFP.
But there is hope for the future of Indian hockey on the other side of the country in the eastern state of Odisha.
There, state-of-the-art hockey stadiums in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela – which hosted recent World Cup matches – have become the new breeding ground of young players.
Coupled with the arrival of foreign coaches – although several were sacked – this has reaped dividends, with India winning bronze in the previous Olympics and a Commonwealth Games silver last year.
Current coach Graham Reid, who took up the Indian job in 2019 and oversaw the team’s bronze-winning show in Tokyo in 2021, said having a “mental coach” is the way ahead.
British Gymnastics bans weighing young athletes
British Gymnastics has introduced new safeguarding rules that will prevent coaches from weighing athletes to stamp out methods it said are “on the fringe of abuse”.
The rules are part of a series of policies that the governing body is introducing following the 2022 Whyte Review, which found there was “systemic” physical and emotional abuse within the sport.
British Gymnastics has said it intends to go beyond the recommendations of that report to stamp out “harmful practices”.
Under the new rules, no gymnasts aged 10 or under can be weighed. Those above that age can only be weighed with the consent of both the gymnast and if they are under the age of 18, a parent or guardian.
If athletes are weighed, it must be done by a sports science or medical practitioner, with a “scientifically valid rationale” for it, including measuring growth or designing strength and conditioning exercises.
British Gymnastics said the policy had been introduced “to prevent inappropriate practices and prevent potential areas of concern around weighing, due to some of the related psychological distress and risks of the development of mental health problems such as eating disorders/disordered eating, anxiety, and depression”.
“Inappropriate or excessive weighing of gymnasts is an example of poor practice which may be on the fringe of abuse, and if/or repeated could amount to abuse,” it added.
The Whyte Review focused on 2008 to 2020 and received more than 400 submissions of those, more than 40 percent described physically abusive behavior towards gymnasts from coaches.
In a statement, British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell said: “Above all else, we care about gymnasts as people, and these new policies make clear that what matters most in gymnastics is the welfare of those involved.
“While practices have moved on a long way, we know there has been poor practice in these areas and so by providing clarity for gymnasts, parents and carers, coaches, clubs, volunteers, and officials through the statements set out in these policies it will ensure everyone understands what is OK and what is not OK and help prevent that happening in the future.”
Iftikhar Ahmed joins Multan Sultans, Rossouw returns to Quetta Gladiators
Pakistan all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed will don the Multan Sultans’ jersey in the ninth edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL).
In a trade, Iftikhar has moved to Multan Sultans, whereas Rilee Rossouw has returned to his previous franchise, Quetta Gladiators.
🔥🚨 Box-office Trade Alert 🚨🔥
🔁Iftikhar Ahmed joins Multan Sultans
— PakistanSuperLeague (@thePSLt20) November 30, 2023
The trade deal with Quetta Gladiators also sees Multan Sultans get the first pick in the platinum round one in exchange for Rilee Rossouw and the first Silver category pick.
Iftikhar has evolved into a formidable all-rounder for his power-hitting and foxy off-spin. He brings an experience of 229 T20 matches in which he has scored 4,476 runs. He also has a century in the format to go with 30 half-centuries. Since the start of his career in October 2010, the muscular batter has been smashing a boundary every 6.75 balls. He recently reached the 50-wicket landmark and his economy stands at 7.31.
Iftikhar Ahmed: “I am delighted to become a Sultan. It is an honour for me to represent the people of Multan as their passion for this game is second to none. Multan Sultans have evolved into a strong team and their record in the last three seasons speak for itself. Now, it is my ambition to help them bag the prestigious HBL PSL trophy,” Iftikhar said.
Captain Muhammad Rizwan: “I am very excited to welcome Iftikhar Ahmed. He brings outstanding all-round skills, which we need to be a champion team.
“It was not only his on-field skills that made us finalise this trade, but he is also a brilliant team player who uplifts dressing rooms with his presence. We are eager to put together a set of players whose skills are in sync with our positive, bold and aggressive brand of cricket.”
Leicester slip-up allows Ipswich to close on Championship lead
Leicester’s lead at the top of the Championship was cut to a single point after they conceded a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday, while Ipswich beat Millwall 3-1.
Top was taking on bottom at Hillsborough, but there was an unexpected sting in the tale as Jeff Hendrick’s 93rd-minute goal secured Wednesday just their seventh point in 18 games.
Abdul Fatawu had put Leicester in front midway through the first half.
But the Foxes have now won just one of their last four games as Hendrick fired home from Callum Paterson’s header.
Ipswich had no such trouble as goals from Conor Chaplin, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Broadhead put them 3-0 up before half-time at Portman Road.
Leeds climbed back up to third and within seven points of the top two despite conceding inside the first minute against Swansea.
Joel Piroe quickly levelled against his former club before goals from Georginio Rutter and Dan James sealed a 3-1 win for Daniel Farke’s men.
Kyle Walker-Peters scored the only goal as a 1-0 win over Bristol City was enough to move Southampton up to fourth.
Blackburn are just two points outside the playoffs after beating Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham 4-2.
Former Manchester United and England captain Rooney has just one win in seven games in charge of the Blues.
Huddersfield moved six points clear of the relegation zone thanks to a 2-1 win at Sunderland.
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