Sports: Curtain raiser on 2023 FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup in Odisha

Hockey extravaganza promises rich feast, Will Asia break the jinx?

Team Parvasi – Inside

Will Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, the showpiece event of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), that gets underway simultaneously at  Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, and newly constructed Birsa Munda Stadium at Rourkela, break the jinx for India and the continent Asia?

It is the seventh time that an Asian nation is organizing this mega event, but none of the previous hosts – India, Pakistan and Malaysia – have ended as a gold medallist.

Pakistan was close as it lost the final of the Lahore World Cup in 1990 when J Floris Bovelander single-handedly saw the Netherlands through with his lethal penalty corner drag flicks.

The 15th edition gets underway on January 13 and continues until January 29 to decide the new World champion.

The 17-day 44-match mega event promises some fierce and vantage hockey, enlivening the fight for supremacy between Europe and the rest of the world. Top 16 teams will unfold their strategies, plans and initiatives to wrest honours in what is being described as both “the smallest and shortest” of World Cups in ball games with soccer steering ahead of all others as number one and cricket maintaining number two position.

The FIFA World Cup 2022 that saw the South American football powerhouse Argentina regaining the title after a pulsating final against the defending champions France concluded late last year. The absorbing fight for supremacy between Europe and Americas was extended to penalties where Lionel Messi and his men retained the crown. After football, now is the time for hockey.

Like soccer, defending champions Belgium, faces tough challenges not only from the former champions Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and South American Argentina but also from the hosts India.

Of all ball games, FIFA World Cup is not only a multi-venue event with a budget running into several billion dollars but has more fans following than even Olympic Games. The budget of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia ran into several hundred million dollars besides nearly 11 billion dollars spent by the hosts in creating the infrastructure. And the budget of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been exorbitant. As per reports, Qatar’s finance minister admitted to spending $500 million on a weekly basis for years during the country’s preparation for the mega soccer event. It is pertinent to mention that Russia spent $11.6 billion to organise the tournament in 2018, while Brazil spent $15 billion in 2014. However, Qatar is said to have spent $220 billion during the course of the infrastructure project.

Soccer and Cricket score over hockey as they have resisted attempts to move to synthetic surfaces. Though at one of its last Congress, the FIH has shown keenness to return to the natural surface – grass – it may take a while to have the game segmented into different categories based on the choice of playfield. The new FIH chief, however, has supported waterless synthetic surfaces for the sport, hoping that the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris may witness the new surface being used.

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There has been little or no progress on return of hockey to natural grass as poor and developing countries were keen to lap up this opportunity to go for field hockey on grass as their limited financial resources prevent them from coming anywhere near advanced or developed nations on acquiring latest synthetic surfaces and playing equipment for their continued supremacy in the sport.

It may be pertinent to mention that the first four of the 14 editions of the World Cup were held on natural grass. This included 1975 Kuala Lumpur where the tournament was played at Merdeka Stadium, which is no longer used for hockey.

Of the previous six events hosted by Asia, India and Malaysia have been the only exceptions as they were allowed to hold the third and the fifth World Cup in Kuala Lumpur and Bombay (now Mumbai) on natural grass. Incidentally Bombay was the last as it hosted the World Cup more than five years after the game had moved to synthetic surface in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

India is becoming the host for the fourth time now. The third time it organized the World Cup was four years ago, in Bhubaneswar. Only other nation to have hosted the World Cup thrice is Netherlands. While India failed to make semis as hosts in 1981, 2010, and 2018, the Netherlands won the World Cup title twice – in 1973 and in 1998 – while losing to Australia in The Hague in 2014. Will India be lucky fourth time?  Is a million rupee question whose answer will be revealed in coming weeks?

In the previous 14 editions of World Cup, 605 matches have been played so far witnessing 2433 goals averaging four goals a match. Only once an Indian – Rajinder Singh – has finished as a top scorer with 12 goals in the Bombay World Cup in 1981.

Pakistan has won the World Cup four times followed by Australia and the Netherlands (three times each) with Germany winning the Cup twice and India  and Belgium winning it once each.

Other than India, the highest ranked Asian team in the tournament, Japan, Korea and Malaysia are the other Asian contenders in the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup.

Malaysia came close to a World cup medal in 1975 when it lost the bronze medal battle to Germany (0-4) as a host. Pakistan, who played in the 2018 edition of the World Cup returning to World Cup after eight years, will, however, miss the 15th edition as it failed to qualify.

India has been drawn with Spain, England and Wales that looks a comparatively less tougher pool though both Spain and England, going by recent records, will be tough opponents.

Prabhjot Singh

NEWS

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