The World Series Hockey that was all set to start this week, has been postponed at the last moment to February 2012. With big stadiums and extremely well paid players, this new concept is supposed to be giving Indian hockey the glamour back it once had. But while WSH is still battling some teething problems, the future of Indian hockey might come from a dusty pitch in Andhra Pradesh.
Bhaskar Naik (18) comes from a poor family in the deep outback of Andhra Pradesh. His father died when he was a young boy, his mother works in the fields for a farmer. She doesn’t have any land of her own. To make a living Bhaskar helped his mother from an early age, until he was invited to a hockey camp.
Hockey became his way out of an uncertain future on the farmlands of rural India. Bhaskar now plays for the Army XI team. He is one of the talented players picked up by Stick for India, an NGO that helps children develop through playing hockey.
Following your dreams
Andreu Enrich gave up a promising hockey career and a spot in the national team to coach children in Anantapur. His decision came after he played a key role in Spain’s bronze medal at the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai.
“Travelling with the national team I got to see a lot of cities, but I wanted to see more of rural India. After the tournament I visited a project by a Spanish NGO called Rural Development Trust,” says Enrich.
The young Spanish hockey player decided to use the sport that brought him success to inspire Indian children. At just 22 years old, Enrich started Stick for India to give children in Andhra Pradesh more options for personal development.
“After visiting Anantapur I wanted to put all my time in this project. I couldn’t focus on the national team anymore, so I quit,” Enrich explains. His new ambition was not something he could postpone till his hockey career was over, he says
“You have to follow your heart when you come across an opportunity like this,” he adds.
Time to play
Today, nearly 1200 children have joined ‘Stick for India’ and train regularly at the NGO’s complex or through their school. For the 30 boy and 20 girls that have been selected as talents, signing up with the school means hard work. Apart from having to perform well in school, the children practice hockey four hours a day. In return the school pays their school fees, and provides them with housing and three nutritious meals a day.
Before they joined Stick for India many of these children used to help their parents on the land. The ones that were lucky enough to be able to go to school had to work after they came home.
This is what life is like for children in rural India. These children don’t have busy schedules filled with extracurricular activities like music lessons, gym classes or play dates. An afternoon running around with friends is out of the question when every hand is needed to ensure there is food on the table the next day.
For Enrich it wasn’t easy to convince Bhaskar Naik’s mother of the benefits that hockey could bring her child.
“People here don’t think of long term benefits, they live by the day. But when they see we pay school fees and provide meals, they agree because it saves them the expenses,” he says.
Becoming a national team player for India ensures you of a steady future. After their career is over the government provides former players with a job.
“Bhaskar already earns about 1500 rupees [250 euros] a month. That is a lot by Indian standards,” says Enrich.
For European players, the World Series Hockey was tempting because of the money on offer. In only five weeks a player can earn as much as he gets for playing a complete season in a European competition.
Enrich is convinced the WSH will benefit Indian hockey as well. “For the first time in Indian hockey, a player can make a pay check from the game. They don’t have to get a part-time job anymore,” he says.
Maybe in a few years Enrich will be able to see his own pupils in action in a major tournament. “Indian children are so disciplined and willing to take advice from their teacher. I have no doubt that in a few years we’ll have a child playing national level hockey,” says a hopeful Enrich.