India and Germany build bridges on the hockey field
On the one hand, a country that has had the most successful hockey team in Olympic history; and on the other, one that is the current hockey world champion. India and Germany – rivals on the international hockey circuit, partners in fostering talent – brought together by the game of hockey.
Hockey is India’s national sport and the Indian men's field hockey team is the most successful team in Olympic history – with eight gold, one silver, and two bronze medals. Interestingly, both India and Germany joined the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in 1928. Since that year, till 1956, the Indian men's team remained unbeaten in the Olympics, winning six gold medals in a row.
Though hockey is overshadowed by football in Germany, the German national hockey team has steadily improved its international ranking over the years and is the current world number one. Germany has won four Olympic gold medals, including at the London Olympics in 2012. They have been the most successful team in the World Cup, organised by the International Hockey Federation, in recent years. They won the tournament in 2002 and 2006 and have reached the semifinals in every World Cup except the inaugural tournament in 1971.
But that is history, and sportsmen don’t believe in resting on their laurels. Players from the two countries are sweating it out on the field – not as adversaries, but as teammates – in the month-long Hockey India League (HIL) that just concluded in India. Organised to boost the competitive level of Indian hockey and to bring back the crowds to hockey matches in India, HIL has also attracted substantial international attention.
Three top players from Germany were picked up for the teams playing in the league – the German national captain Moritz Fuerste, who is also the 2012 FIH World Player of the Year, led the Ranchi Rhinos to victory at the first HIL. Nicolas (Nico) Jacobi and Oskar Deecke were part of the most successful HIL team – the Delhi Waveriders – and gave a tough fight to the Rhinos in the nailbiting finals. Speaking to the media at the German Ambassador’s residence in New Delhi, Jacobi and Deecke said they were amazed at the enthusiastic crowds during the matches. “Sports is a great bridge-builder between countries and people,” said Ambassador Michael Steiner, who is a novice to the game, but was happy to pick up some tricks with the hockey stick from the two German players and their teammate Rupinder Pal Singh.
Enlarge image Germany's Moritz Fuerste during the Hockey India League (© dpa) The German hockey players, who were also part of the 2010 World Cup team that beat India on their home turf, expressed admiration for the quality of individual players from India. “They’re really good with the sticks and the feeling they have for the ball. That’s something we can learn from the Indian players,” said Deecke. He and his teammate Jacobi felt, however, that the game is no longer about individual performance, but more about tactics. “You have to move as eleven players, not just one or two or three. The other thing that’s really important is to have a structured organisation that is followed by the Federation. This is something the Indian team could learn from the foreign players,” Deecke explained.
Jacobi added that another important element missing in India is that there is no proper scouting system. In Germany, children are spotted and trained from the age of 13 – 14 years. This helps build the team qualities into them right from the beginning. An initiative launched by a German in a remote village in Rajasthan echoes the need for such grassroots level scouting and nurturing systems. Hockey Village India is a school that mentors children of the village of Garh Himmat Singh in eastern Rajasthan. Founded by Andrea Thumshirn, who instantly felt at home in India when she visited the first time in 1999 during a hockey camp, the initiative is functioning against all odds in this off-the-map village since 2010.
Thumshirn was an amateur hockey player in Germany and began conducting tour groups to India when she chanced upon Garh Himmat Singh, with its 4,000 odd population and the ruins of a fort. In 2011, Thumshirn shifted permanently to the village and says she doesn’t regret her decision even for a second. With help from her business partner and his cousin, whose family once lived in the fort, she created space for the children of the village to learn and practice hockey.
Enlarge image Girls from Garh Himmat Singh village in Rajasthan learn the tricks at their hockey school (© Photo: Sharp Shooters / Hockey Village India) From that beginning, Hockey Village India is now successfully training five hockey teams with 50 girls and 35 boys. They have travelled for practice matches to Jaipur, Delhi, Mumbai, Hisar and Bhilwara. The boys’ team has also participated in the All India K. D. Singh Babu tournament in Lucknow in January 2012 and at the All India Nehru Cup U15 in October 2012 in Delhi. The objective of the project is to set up a full-fledged hockey academy where children can pursue regular studies along with hockey coaching. Thumshirn has fought hard to provide good equipment, sticks, shoes and uniforms to the children so that they have pride in their sport. She hopes they will gain recognition through excellence on the field. The Hockey Village’s moment of pride was when Indian team captain Sardar Singh became their ambassador and the children met him and Sandeep Singh of the Indian squad as well as Germany’s Moritz Fürste, Oskar Deeke and Nico Jacobi.
As Thumshirn and her Indian friends and German volunteers teach the children of Garh Himmat Singh to dribble on the dusty village field, and the Indian and German players work as a team in the Hockey India League, the objective remains the same. To identify and nurture sporting talent that lies in abundance in India, and to learn from the best of each other’s approach to the game. That’s the reason Rupinder Singh of Delhi Waveriders admires the aggressive style of his German teammates, while Jacobi and Deecke are touched by the Indian ritual of offering prayers before every game. At the end of the day, it goes beyond the game, connecting people in a deeper and more enduring bond.