Some of the biggest names in hockey to have emerged from Mumbai have written to sports minister Kiren Rijiju against the one-state-one-unit rule, which they fear could be the 'final nail in the coffin of hockey in Mumbai.'
In an email sent to Rijiju " and also addressed to IOA president Narinder Batra, IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta, and Hockey India president Mushtaque Ahmad " on Thursday, the former hockey players have urged the sports minister to intervene and 'save Mumbai hockey' contending that the implementation of the one-state-one-unit rule would weaken the city's hockey ecosystem. The players have pleaded that Mumbai be allowed to continue its present independent status with direct affiliation to Hockey India as a full member.
The email which has been accessed by Firstpost has been written by Olympians Dhanraj Pillay, MM Somaya, Viren Rasquinha, Joaquim Carvalho, Marcellus Gomes, Iqbaljit Singh, Mervyn Fernandis, Balbir Singh Grewal, Gurubax Singh Grewal, Eliza Nelson, Selma Dsilva, and Margaret Toscano.
"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. 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 of Mumbai hockey. Indian hockey will lose out on one of its most important nurseries and feeder system of good young hockey talent," Rasquinha told Firstpost on Thursday.
The one-state-one-unit rule, which came into effect from Wednesday, effectively means that Hockey Maharashtra will be the only affiliated association from the state of Maharashtra with Hockey India. This leaves Mumbai Hockey Association Limited and Vidarbha Hockey Association (based in Nagpur) in the lurch, with no voting rights and, more importantly, no power to send independent teams to the National Championships. This would mean that instead of three teams from Maharashtra competing at the Nationals, there will now just be one team, picked by Hockey Maharashtra. The players said the move would reduce the number of players from Mumbai at the National Championships by roughly 30 to 50 percent.
"Most employers in Mumbai seek participation in Nationals Championships as a baseline qualification for recruitment. With reduction in numbers of eligible Mumbai players, these organisations would be reluctant to recruit players and may not want to maintain teams. Organisations like TATAs and Mahindra & Mahindra have discontinued hockey teams some years ago already leading to lesser job opportunities. In case the existing organisations withdraw their support to hockey then it would have a cascading impact on the entire chain. Schools, colleges and clubs will further reduce focus on the national sport. As a result fewer youngsters would take to the game seriously," the players wrote in the email.
Besides states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai has been a nerve centre for hockey over the decades. Many business houses, and PSU banks like Western Railway, Central Railway, Navy, Union Bank, Central Bank, Mumbai Customs & Excise, and Mumbai Port Trust have provided employment to hockey players from Mumbai.
The Mumbai-based players have urged Hockey India to follow the example of the Board of Control for Cricket in India which they say has been prudent in the application of the Lodha Committee recommendations. The players pointed out that a Supreme Court judgment, dated 9 August, 2018, has empowered them to provide Full Membership status to Associations like Mumbai and Vidarbha in Maharashtra. Similarly Full Membership has also been accorded to Saurashtra and Baroda in Gujarat.
While Vidarbha Hockey Association is said to have moved the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court asking for a stay, MHAL officials have shown no inclination to pursue the matter legally.
"Mumbai has been one of the founder members of the original governing body of hockey in India, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). To be excluded from membership despite contributing significantly over so many decades would be grossly unfair," the players added.