On December 18, the India colts scripted history by lifting the Hockey Junior World Cup after a gap of 15 years. More than half of the squad — 10 out of 18 — are from Punjab. The genesis of the victory is courtesy of a ‘green revolution’ of different kind that happened in Punjab.
The foundation of the Punjab hockey’s roaring comeback at the national scene was laid during the tenure of former Olympic captain Pargat Singh, who served as the Punjab director sports from 2005 to 2012.
Looking to recapture a passion for hockey in the great Punjabi heartland, Pargat came up with an idea of bringing astroturf to the villages. The main hurdle was the prohibitive cost. So, he decided that the solution to the problem was in the Public-Private Partnership. The state sports department bought used astroturfs at throwaway prices from around the country and cut them down to smaller, six-a-side turfs. As a result, around 20 villages now has a six-a-side astroturf.
“Due to fewer astroturfs in the state, children were not exposed to playing on synthetic turf. We had a budgetary crunch. So, we decided to buy the old turf and convert it into four to five six-a-side turfs. The department provided the turfs and the local clubs, with the help of villagers, constructed the concrete base on which the turf was laid,” recalls Pargat, who later quit director sports to join active politics. “The easy accessibility to the turfs helped in broad basing the sport and because of which today Punjab is regained its hockey supremacy. And proudly I can say that this system has contributed a lot in the country’s junior world cup triumph,” adds Pargat.
Out of the ten players from the state, nine are the products of the state-run Surjit Hockey Academy.
“Most of the players from the current lot started pursuing the sport seriously between 2005 and 2010. That time we started the Punjab state league in which there were 400 teams and the best players from the hockey centres across the state, including the one run in the villages, were picked for the excellence centre at Surjit Hockey Academy. And during that time we improved the facilities, including air conditioned hostels, and new turf,” says Pargat. “Sukhvir Grewal, who is currently the director of the Punjab Institute of Sports, has a major role to play in the overall planning of the sport during that time.”
Gurjant Singh, who hails from Amritsar, started his hockey career from Cheema Academy in Batala and later shifted to Chandigarh. “I started the sport in 2004 at Cheema Academy, but at that time there was no turf there, so I shifted to Chandigarh. But later six-a-side turf was laid and it helped in growth of the sport in the area. My cousin Simranjeet Singh, who was also part of the junior world cup squad, is a product of the Cheema Academy and he played there for quite a long time before being selected for the Surjit Academy, Jalandhar,” says Gurjant.