New Delhi: That Indian hockey has hit rock bottom is common knowledge. But now even a relatively unknown sport like wushu has moved ahead in the Sports Ministry's list of priority sports. The image of the National Game has taken a further beating with it getting the axe from the priority list.
A board at the office of the Indian Hockey Federation tells the story - the rich history of a game that got India eight Olympic gold medals - way more than any other country, even now. But for the Sports Ministry, these numbers don't mean much.
We have a very clear objective criteria, on the basis of which this categorisation is done. And I see no inconsistency between our general criteria and and the criteria applied to hockey," Union Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar told reporters.
Ironically, the downgrading came on a day when the new look team advanced to the semis of the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, beating Argentina 2-0. No wonder then that the sports community has reacted angrily.
"While we are doing our best to promote hockey so that it can come back to its old glory, this is very unfortunate," Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi says.
"The Government of India, they should pull up the Federation, whatever nonsense they are up to," former India hockey captain Pargat Singh adds.
Indian sports are classified into three categories based on medal prospects - priority, general and others.
India's 2006 performance in hockey was abysmal, failing to make the semi-final at the Commonwealth Games, third at the Azlan Shah, 11th at the World Cup, and missing out on a semi-final berth for the first time ever at the Asian Games.
"The right message which we are sending is that unless the Indian Hockey Federation is able to show better results on the ground, they cannot be prioritised higher," Aiyar reiterated.
Former players say that the move lacks logic and foresight, especially as Indian hockey is trying to regroup after repeated failures. But they also agreed that by doing so, the Ministry is targetting the IHF and the way it is being run. The message is clear: be accountable.
(With inputs from Meetu Jain)