Mumbai hockey gets the stick

Representing Mumbai at the National Hockey Championships has always been a matter of pride and the list of India stalwarts this city has contributed over the past, is endless. However, Mumbai hockey teams will not be part of the Nationals now.

The Mumbai Hockey Association Ltd (MHAL) has decided against legally contesting Hockey India's (HI) move to withdraw MHAL's associate membership and recognise Hockey Maharashtra as the state's sole representative body for the sport as per the Lodha Panel's one-state-one-unit recommendation. The HI directive, issued in January, came into effect on Wednesday. Vidarbha Hockey Association, whose membership was also similarly cancelled, have approached the High Court.

"MHAL decided not to approach the courts, fearing we could lose not only our Hockey India membership but also our affiliation to Hockey Maharashtra. This would leave Mumbai hockey nowhere. However, while we have accepted Hockey Maharashtra's affiliation for now, we will await the court's verdict on Vidarbha [next hearing is on July 31]. If that goes in their favour, we can then approach the court with our case," MHAL secretary Ram Singh Rathore told mid-day on Wednesday.

For the players, however, it's an emotional detachment from a sport that has provided most of them a livelihood. "It's a sad day given Mumbai's hockey legacy," said 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning team member MM Somaya, who won the Junior National title with Mumbai back in 1976 in Belgaum. "Currently, only Union Bank and Central Bank are recruiting city players and that too on a contractual basis. Teams like Western or Central Railway and Indian Navy recruit players from outside Mumbai. Now, Mumbai companies will think twice before hiring hockey players as their chances of going on to represent the state and hopefully India will reduce drastically," said Somaya.

Conroy Remedios, who was captain when Mumbai won their last Senior National title in 2010 at Bhopal, said his Mumbai jersey remains his most cherished possession. "I feel proud to have represented Mumbai consistently from 1998 to 2015. At National tournaments, people always looked up to Mumbai players, given our contribution to the Indian team over the years. All that is over now," rued Remedios.

Ramsingh Rathore & MM Somaya

Somaya felt the uniform application of the Lodha Panel recommendations is inappropriate. "The Lodha recommendations were made for better administration but cannot be uniformly applied everywhere. A case in point is Mumbai, which has a thriving hockey eco-system, including the best leagues, employers, players and sponsors. A representation should be made to the Indian Olympic Association, asking them not to weaken Mumbai's hockey system as that will hurt the national hockey scenario," said Somaya.

Remedios said the consequences will be felt right down to the grassroot level. "If there are no jobs for hockey players in Mumbai, why will kids take up the game here? I hope our current players get a fair chance in the Maharashtra team," said Remedios.

MHAL president Mangha Singh Bakshi assured they will. "Hockey Maharashtra has been very cooperative and assured us that Mumbai players will be well represented in the state team. Besides, other than our top tournaments like Guru Tegh Bahadur, Bombay Gold Cup and the Super League, we plan to add a few more to provide more opportunities for our city players," said Bakshi.

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