Hockey has always had a special place in India. Back when cricket was limited to a few playgrounds, and football could not go abroad due to barefooted players, hockey was the one team sport which Indians excelled in. Even before independence, none other than the legendary Lance Naik Dhyan Chand, along with the rest of the supremely talented Indian team, had led India to 3 gold medals in 3 consecutive Olympics (1928, ’32, ’36).
Independence did not change anything; India’s dominance on the international stage continued as the Olympics restarted after World War 2. The team won gold at London 1948, Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956, broken by a mere silver at Rome 1960, and another gold at Tokyo 1964. This was followed by the start of the decline, as India won bronze at Mexico City 1972 & Munich 1976, followed by the last gold medal at Moscow 1980. Since then, Indian hockey has been in the doldrums, though things might be looking up now.
As a result, a number of hockey tournaments in India are played throughout the year, almost too many to be properly given an account of.
Hockey India League
Since the start of hockey in India, the IHF (Indian Hockey Federation) was the governing body for the sport in the country. However, following allegations of corruption in 2008, the IHF was de-recognized by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), with a new body Hockey India (HI) taking over the reins of managing Indian hockey. This was followed by court cases between the two (where HI was declared as the sole hockey body), and compromises; finally, Hockey India is responsible for hockey in India.
Before this fight broke out, the IHF had started the Premier Hockey League in 2005; 5 city-based franchises, international players, and song-and-dance performances made it quite popular. But the PHL was disbanded in 2008 (apparently in the aftermath of the corruption scandal at IHF). Then, during the fight between IHF & HI, IHF again started a tournament called World Series Hockey in 2012; a number of international & Indian players played for the teams in the league. HI reacted by targeting the Indian players who had played in tournament & removed them from the Indian team in London 2012. Of course, like the BCCI (in case of the ICL & IPL), HI understood the real lesson and started the Hockey India League in 2013.
The League itself consists of 6 teams playing against each other; 8 city-based franchises (just like the IPL or ISL) have played in the league, of which 2 have dropped out; both the Mumbai & Ranchi franchises were resold to others, after just one season. The present teams are the Kalinga Lancers (from Orissa), Dabang Mumbai, Delhi Waveriders, Punjab Warriors, Ranchi Rays (from Jharkhand) & Uttar Pradesh Wizards; one interesting feature is that 5 separate teams have won the competition in the 5 seasons held till now. While the league was hailed initially as a success, and as a boon for Indian players (being a well-paying opportunity), there seem to be problems now; the Indian players are not getting paid regularly now, while the competition is accused of being biased towards northern India only.
Another hiccup is that the Hockey India League is not going to be played in 2018. While the HI says it is due to it being a very busy international year, naysayers think there is more to this decision than meets the eye.
Said to be the oldest, or at least among the oldest hockey tournaments in the world, the Beighton Cup began in Calcutta in 1895. The tournament was first held by the Indian Football Association and is now organized by the Bengal Hockey Association. The tournament has hosted a number of Indian hockey legends, including Leslie Claudius, Gurbux Singh, Lance Naik Dhyan Chand, Pat Jensen, Joe Gallibardy and many others. In fact, it is the reason why Calcutta used to be the hub of hockey in India, at least initially.
It is popularly said that the tournament has been held annually, even during the World Wars, and that the only break was in 1947. A more puzzling fact is that there was no edition of the Beighton Cup in 2017 too, which was due to the mundane reason of no venue being available. The BHA has reassured people that the 2018 edition will be held, around December.
Aga Khan Tournament
The source of most of the hockey history of India is more often than not Lance Naik Dhyan Chand’s autobiography. In it, while he says
My life’s ambition was to win the Beighton Cup, as I had always regarded this competition as the blue riband of Indian hockey.
about the Aga Khan Cup, he has this to say
Of course we had heard a lot about the Aga Khan Cup. It is one of the best and most colourful tournaments in India, and attracts entries from all over the country. Somehow or the other, we could not make our way to this tournament….unlike Kolkata, there is only ground at the disposal of the tournament. All matches of the Aga Khan tournament are staged on the grounds of Bombay Gymkhana, Mumbai’s premier club, and they cannot possibly play more than one match a day.
The situation is not so much different now; the tournament is currently organized by the Maharashtra Hockey Association & finishes in September (in 2016) or December (in 2017), which means the tournament may still clash with the Beighton Cup, at least this year. It is also still a national-level tournament; however, the location is now Pune instead of Mumbai. The teams are an eclectic bunch: the Pune City Police, the State Reserve Police Force, Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, Railway Police, and even city teams like Bhopal, Lucknow & Aurangabad and even defense service teams like Maratha Light Infantry Regimental Centre have competed in past editions. 2018 will witness the 115th edition of the Cup.
MCC Murugappa Gold Cup Hockey
The Madras Challenge Cup had been held in the eponymous city since 1901, proving that even the southern part of India is no less in hockey. The Murugappa group joined hands with the organizer in the 1960s, and thus the 90s saw the name change to MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup. Now in its 92nd edition (to be held somewhere around August), this tournament is played by a number of state associations (Maharashtra, Karnataka) as well as teams from PSUs (ONGC, Railways, Indian Oil) and of course, defense service teams like the Army 11. The prize money for the winner? 5 Lakhs, with 2.5 lakhs for the runner-up. Many Indian nationals have played in the tournament, including the spectacular Dhanraj Pillay, Deepak Thakur, Devinder Walmiki, and many others.
Nehru Senior Hockey Tournament
Organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament Society, this is just one of the many competitions it organizes. This is the oldest tournament though, with 2017 seeing its 54th edition; the other tournaments are for boys (Under-15 & Under-17), for girls (Under-17), as well as for universities.
Remember the silver medal which India’s hockey team won at Rome 1960? The final opponent was Pakistan. In the 1962 Asian Games, India again lost to Pakistan in the final; Novy Kapadia says that these events led a group of bureaucrats and ministers to set up the tournament; when the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964, his name was given to the tournament. Usually held in the Shivaji Park stadium, the tournament has played a key role in discovering some of the future stars of Indian hockey, such as Balbir Singh, Michael Kindo, Ajitpal Singh, Ashok Kumar are some of those who have lit up the tournament with their performances. The 54th edition was won by the Punjab & Sind Bank, while other teams included the Railway Sports Promotion Board, Indian Air Force, Comptroller & Auditor General of India, National Hockey Academy.
There are many, many other hockey tournaments in India. While space is too less to detail all of them, here are a few:
Mahant Raja Sarveshwar Das Memorial All India Hockey Tournament
The 76th edition was held at Rajnandgaon International Hockey Stadium, near Raipur, around December 2017-January 2018. Teams participating included Central Railway, South Central Railways Secunderabad, Bharat Petroleum, SAIL (Rourkela) as well as Rajnandgaon District Hockey Association, and many other teams.
S.N Vohra All-India Gurmit Memorial Hockey Tournament
The 46th edition was held in 2016, in Chandigarh. Punjab & Sindh Bank were the winners of the 45th edition.
All India Sardar Balwant Singh Kapur Memorial Schools Hockey Tournament for Mata Parkash Kaur Cup
The 14th edition was held in Mohali, in December 2017. As is in the name, the tournament is held for schools & in that, for Under-17 kids The winner earned Rs. 1,25,000 while the runner-up earned Rs. 80,000.