Sports and national identity. A brief history of Indian hockey 1928 - 1980

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2015

15 Pages




II. India within the 5 rings

III. Indian Hockey as seen by the World

IV. Downfall of Indian Hockey


‘India claims to be the foremost in many things in the world. The world admits that she is foremost in hockey’.2

Hockey, like all modern sports, had been taken to India by the British and became a Popular Sport in the Indian army much encouraged by the British officers in charge. Dhyan Chand, the ‘Bradman of hockey’ and its greatest ever player, was introduced to the game while serving the army. It was in the army that he was ordered to tour with India to New Zealand for a hockey tournament.3

The first introduction of hockey had been taken place in colonial Calcutta. As Calcutta was then the capital city of British India most of the colonial sports were introduced in the city. Similarly like football, at the initial stage hockey was also restricted within the European and Anglo-Indian community. From the military camps it had spread among the European civilians who started taking interest in organizing the hockey matches in other parts of the city in regular basis. But still it did not gain overwhelming popularity among the native Bengali masses like the game of football. The complex rules and costly equipments necessary for the game retained its popularity within the European community in the Initial stage but later with the passage of time hockey also began to be popular among the Indians.4 The regular organisation of hockey matches in Calcutta led the situation for the rise of competitive measures of the game. Therefore the first hockey club was established in 1885-86 by the white lords. But this club failed to exist for a long time and thus soon was disbanded.5 Even it was in Calcutta that the idea to form an all-India Hockey Association was first made in 1907 or 1908. But the plan didn't work out. But later it was in Gwalior that an Indian Hockey Association was formed.6 At the inaugural meeting of the federation, Gwalior, Bengal, Punjab, Sind, Rajputana, Western India, Punjab University and the Army Sports Control Board were represented. For the first two years, Gwalior was treated as the headquarters, subsequently it moved to Delhi in 1927.7 The formation of the IHF was a landmark because it enabled international exposure for Indian players for the first time. Soon after its formation the IHF organized India’s first international tour, the trip to New Zealand in 1926. The Indian team immediately made its mark both within and outside the country. As mentioned by Dhyan Chand himself, “After my return from New Zealand with the Indian Army Hockey team in 1926 I found that New Zealand trip brought into the limelight of Indian hockey. The Press and the Indian people started talking about me”.8

Success in New Zealand also made the Indians venture into the Olympics and in 1928 the Indians arrived in England on their way to Amsterdam Games, where they met the English team at the Folkestone Easter festival and beat them 4-0. British hockey's response as Mihir Bose writes was to drop out of the Olympic altogether.9 May be they were not ready to accept the defeat from their colonial subjects as they were the ones who sowed the seeds of western sports in the fertile Soil of India. Even Dhyan Chand accepts the contribution of the British in one of his article. ‘My Hockey memories’. He even said that for his hockey he was gratefully indebted to British Army officer who not only took great interest in this game but played with the Indians on all occasions forgetting their official rank and status. Mr. Ritchie was responsible for raising the standard of hockey in the Punjab.10

Scholars have written a lot on the 1911 football match where the Bengal players defeated the English team and won the IFA Shield. But very few scholars have written about the Indian Victory of hockey over the British. The Indian hockey team not only defeated the British, but unable to handle the defeat they stopped talking part in the Olympic hockey tournament. It stepped out of hockey tournament for two decades. Dhyan Chand says he heard Britain dropped out after the Folkestone game, fearing a defeat by the Indians. Even Balbir Singh (Senior) wrote 'Britain never played an Indian XI as long as they remained our rulers. The 1948 Olympic hockey final was the first meeting between Britain and India.' The Indian's with the help of the hockey successes worried their white rulers so much that they, even being world's strongest team11, refused to play with India in the International field. But why it was not seen from nationalistic angle remains a question. The reason may be that the hockey team consisted of both Anglo Indians and Indian players. So somehow it failed to produce any nationalistic and patriotic zeal. Rather the masses became obsessed with the individual figure of Dhyan Chand who showed great skill in the Olympics.12

II. India within the 5 rings

Saradindu Sanyal in his chapter ‘India in Olympic Hockey’ divided India's hockey fortunes in Olympic into 3 phases––(1st) It began with the Amsterdam Games (1928) and ended with the Berlin Games (1936) (2nd) It was the post War Olympic in London the Melbourne Games. (3rd) It started with the Rome Games and ended with the Mexico City Games.

During first phases India enjoyed overwhelming superiority. It also saw Indian hockey techniques at its superb best, which baffled the hard-hitting European players. In the second phase India defeated their opponents but with a very low margin. The last and third phase saw the decline of India’s fortune in Olympic hockey, except for the flickering sport at Tokyo.13

There are several factors which led to the success of the game of hockey. In the beginning it must be admitted that India's superiority was partly due to the fact that the game was hardly a world sport and the other members were not very much proficient in the Game.14 Even the English, which previously reigned supreme didn't take part in Olympics. According to Swami Jagan Nath the chief factors which contribute to the success of Indians in the field of hockey are the extensive plots of land available as playing field, a heavy rainfall over only a short period of the year giving generally dry and hard grounds, the light physique of the people and the supple movements of their bodies. The comparatively low cost of practice and the limited time necessary in the exercise of the game are further contributory causes to the firm establishment of the game on the soil of this country.15 In a very interesting article of Anglo-Pali Vidyalaya (Jetvan) some points have been discussed as to why Indians were successful in hockey. Here the writer feels that the Indians have greater predilection for this game for unlike football its close rival, it does not require tall stature, strong body, and muscular legs with cumbersome footgear to play with. The game of Hockey does not disable even pupil of weaker constitution provided they are physically fit. According to him, the physical buildup of Indians made them fit to play this game.16 According to Boria Mazumdar, there were no early administrative and political divides, like in the games of football and cricket. The players totally abstained themselves from administrative wrangles, played as one unit. The hockey team rose to national prominence for its performances on the international stage as a 'national' team. It is rightly said by Majumdar and Mehta that it was this nationalistic link that bound it in the early year's.17 Among these various reason it is more convincing to believe that it was the weakness of our opponents during the early to years become our success and as they gradually improved themselves the margins of goals had been reduced. Another reason which can be considered as the reason for our success was the large number of interprovincial tournament which was usually held in Calcutta. Almost all the provinces that took part in it brought with them best Hockey talents after a meticulous selection from every nook and corner of their respective districts. The exhibition matches helped in raising the standard of Hockey in our country. Each individual player representing his provincial Hockey Team is generally a player of proved merit, and it fired by the ambition of giving his best in trial matches and stand the chance of being enlisted among the players that may compose India's Olympic Hockey eleven.18

“The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, when India won the gold, was the country's first step towards ascending the throne of hockey. It was at the insistence of the newly-formed Indian hockey federation that the Sport was included in the program after a break of 8 years.”19


1 Devan, Pamela, ‘Cricket and the Global Indian Identity’, Sport in Society, Vol. 15, No. 10, December 2012, pp.- 1413-1425.

2 Majumdar,Boria. ‘The Golden Years of Indian hockey.’ In The Politics of sport in South Asia, Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty. Shantanu Chakraborty and Kingshuk Chatterjee, ( New York: Taylor & Francis, 2010), P.71

3 Bose Mihir, The Spirit of the Game (UK: Constable and Robinson Ltd, 2012), P 160.

4 Majumdar Debashis. ‘Origin and Growth of Hockey in Bengal with Speical Reference to Bengal Hockey Association : A historical Interpretation’ in Palit, C (Ed.) Social History of Sports. (New Delhi: Kunal Books, 2014), P.132

5 Ibid

6 P.G. ‘Brief History of the Indian Hockey Fedaration’, http :\\content\sarf.146333\222598\006

7 Majumdar Boria and Mehta Nalin. Olympic : the Indian Story, (India: Harpercollins, 2008), p-54.

8 Dhyan Chand ‘My Hockey Memories’ in Sports and Pastime, 1958

9 Mihir Bose, p. 161



12 Majumdar, ‘Origin and Growth of Hockey in Bengal with Special Reference to Bengal Hockey Association : A Historical Interpretation’ In The Politics of sport in South Asia, P.136.

13 Sanyal Saradindu. Olympic Games and India, (Delhi: Metropolitan Book Co., 1970), p. 173

14 Ibid

15 De Mello, Anthony. ‘We climb the Victory Stand : Hockey in Excelsis’ in Potrait of Indian Sports. p.92

16 Malikchand Sahgal ‘Training for Hockey’,\content\ sarf.120031\205839\003

17 Majumdar and Mehta, p.74

18 OP.CIT Sahgal.

19 ‘The Indian hockey team which won the 1928 Olympic Gold’. The Hindu Archives. www.the

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Sports and national identity. A brief history of Indian hockey 1928 - 1980
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
424 KB
sports, hockey, nationalism, india, olympics, colonial history, national identity
Quote paper
Basudhita Basu (Author), 2015, Sports and national identity. A brief history of Indian hockey 1928 - 1980, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Sports and national identity. A brief history of Indian hockey 1928 - 1980

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free