Bangalore: After a three-year interval, the much-diluted senior men's National Hockey Championship for the Rangaswamy Cup will commence here on Wednesday with defending champions Mumbai taking on hosts Karnataka in the opening fixture.
The week-long tournament that concludes on May 16, will see zonal winners Punjab (North), Mumbai (West), Karnataka (South), Jharkhand (East), Uttar Pradesh (Central) and Manipur (North-East) playing one another on a single league basis followed by classification matches for positions 1-4.
The zonal system returns with the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) attempting to make the event more competitive while doing away with farcical one-sided games besides cutting down on duration and by extension the costs of hosting some 20-plus teams, of which barely half-a-dozen can boast of a hockey pedigree.
In the past few decades, the IHF had experimented with various formats, one of them being the current zonal system that was subsequently discarded when the smaller teams complained of lack of exposure and opportunity to play the top sides, thus stunting development.
The World Series Hockey, launched amidst considerable hoopla in 2012, was thought to replace the National Championship that in any case had lost much of its lustre since it was not conducted on an annual basis as during the salad days of Indian hockey.
Inadequate sponsorship and shoe-string budgets have forced the IHF to revert to the compact zonal system. Despite the constraints, the Karnataka State Hockey Association was contemplating cash awards in a welcome departure from tradition.