Former hockey players from Mumbai have written to sports minister Kiren Rijiju against the ‘one-state-one-association’ rule that has led to the Mumbai Hockey Association Ltd losing its associate membership in Hockey India.
The players fear that the de-recognition of MHAL will hurt the hockey ecosystem in Mumbai which has been one of the biggest nurseries for talent in India.
“Mumbai has a great hockey culture, tradition and ecosystem of ‘gully’ hockey, school hockey, club hockey and Mumbai players going on to represent India even at the Olympics,” former India captain Viren Rasquinha told Scroll.in.
“We must not let our Mumbai kids lose out on the opportunity to represent Mumbai at the National Championship in sub-junior, junior and senior categories - men and women. Else that will be the final nail in the coffin for Mumbai hockey. Indian hockey will lose out on one of its most important nurseries and feeder system of good young hockey talent,” he added.
In an e-mail addressed to sports minister Rijiju, Indian Olympic Association president Narendra Batra, and Secretary General Rajeev Mehta, and Hockey India President Mushtaque Ahmad, the former players who emerged from the city urged the ministry to restore the membership of Mumbai Hockey Association even if it needed an amendment to the IOA constitution.
The initiative is led by three-time Olympian MM Somaya with the support of other greats including Dhanraj Pillay, Joaquim Carvalho, Mervyn Fernandes, Marcellus Gomes, Balbir Singh Grewal, Gurubax Singh Grewal, Viren Rasquinha, Iqbaljit Singh, Eliza Nelson, Selma D’Silva and Margaret Toscano.
IOA’s ‘one-state-one-association’ ruling was implemented by Hockey India from July 1. As a result, the three different associations that existed in Maharashtra — Mumbai Hockey Association, Vidarbha Hockey Association and Maharashtra Hockey Association — were merged under the umbrella of Hockey Maharashtra.
This will prevent Mumbai from sending a separate team to the Senior National Championships as has been the case so far. Instead, players from Mumbai will now have to fight for a spot in the Maharashtra team, thus reducing their chances of playing in the nationals.
“In the present situation wherein only one team will be permitted from the state there will be a substantial reduction in the number of players from Mumbai who will play under the Hockey Maharashtra banner. This would happen since players from other districts would also need to be accommodated. A rough estimate is that the reduction of Mumbai players in the National Championship would be between 30-50%,” the players wrote in the e-mail which has been seen by Scroll.in.
“Most employers in Mumbai seek participation in Nationals Championships as a baseline qualification for recruitment. With the reduction in numbers of eligible Mumbai players these organisations would be reluctant to recruit players and may not want to maintain teams. As a result, fewer youngsters would take to the game seriously,” the players added.
The players referred to the “prudent” application of the one-state-one-association rule by the Board of Control for Cricket in India who have been able to grant full membership status to associations in Mumbai, Vidarbha, Saurashtra and Gujarat after a Supreme Court judgement in August 2018.
“The results have been very encouraging. Vidarbha and Saurashtra have won the Ranji Trophy in recent years. This has ensured that established centres continue to thrive and the wide talent base remains unaffected,” the players added.
The players have also urged the MHAL to intervene to ensure that “the city continues to be a nerve centre for hockey in the country.”
However, MHAL has decided against going to the court to appeal the ruling, thus accepting its affiliation to Hockey Maharashtra.
MHAL secretary Ram Singh Rathore thanked the former players for their support but felt the situation cannot be looked at only from an emotional point-of-view.
“These players are our well-wishers and I appreciate their support but we have to function within the laws of the sports ministry. If we went to court, we will completely lose our recognition and then we won’t be able to send any players from Mumbai to the nationals. So we have to think about them,” Rathore told Scroll.in.
The MHAL had requested Hockey India to consider preserving their associate membership after taking into consideration their contribution to the sport in a letter written to the national federation in February.
“This is to inform you that the Bombay Provincial Hockey Association Ltd was established in the year 1932 at a time when there was no other hockey association in the jurisdiction of Maharashtra,” the letter read.
“We are not against the clause 31.1.3 of IOA and we have never made any attempt to ask for voting right to represent our association in Hockey India. We took the associate membership to safeguard the interest of budding players of Mumbai region so that they can part in Hockey India Nationals,” it added.
Rathore admitted that not being able to send a separate team to the nationals will hurt hockey in Mumbai, but insisted that the impact won’t be as bad as documented by the players.
“The concerns of the players are only partly true,” Rathore said.
“In terms of numbers, I agree we will not be able to send the same number of the players, but earlier only a few players in our team were really good, a few others weren’t as good. Even now under the umbrella of Maharashtra, the good players will get into the team on merit, it’s only those who aren’t quite as good enough will miss out,” he added.
Rathore also felt the MHAL’s hands were tied after Hockey India decided to force the ruling.
“The ruling is a directive of IOA. If you look at any national federations under the IOA charter, there is a national association, a state association and district association. This is what we are following now,” he said.
Mumbai has produced six Arjuna Award winners in hockey and eleven World Cup players for India and Rathore is confident the ecosystem will continue to live up to its legacy in the future even as a member of the Hockey Maharashtra.
“I’m confident that we will keep producing players. Even now, I am sure we will have at least ten players from Mumbai in the Maharashtra team purely on merit,” he said.