It’s August 29 and the country today celebrates National Sports Day commemorating the birthday of hockey wizard, legendary Dhyan Chand. In normal times, the event was celebrated with much fanfare throughout the country. The last two years have been quiet in that sense but the event did take place with online innovations. What didn’t change though are the celebrations in Jhansi as Major Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar ensured that a number of activities were lined up on the day.
With the Khel Ratna being renamed after Major Dhyan Chand, the celebrations would now be taking place after a two-year lull. A galaxy of international hockey stars, with the likes of former goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi, Zafar Iqbal, descended in Jhansi to participate in the day-long festivities.
“Besides my father’s birthday, we will also be celebrating 100 years of the Heroes Hockey Club that my father played for,” Ashok Kumar told News18.com from Jhansi. In Major Dhyan Chand’s honour, the Madhya Pradesh government has decided to install an artificial surface in Jhansi, the official announcement of which is expected to be made in a couple of days.
According to Ashok Kumar, despite being described as the first family of hockey, it’s always an “honour to see the entire India celebrate my father’s birthday with such fanfare”.
“Like every other fan, I am just a small part of this big event. It is celebrated by lakhs of people across India and I just am one of them,” Ashok Kumar said.
Although the government celebrates Major Dhyan Chand’s birthday every year, National Sports Day was officially declared on August 29, 2012.
“It was a long campaign run by hockey lovers for years before the government decided to give it an official tag. I remember somewhere in mid-2000, the 1975 World Cup winners played against 1998 Asian Games gold medallists in an exhibition match in Mumbai and we called it National Sports Day. It was then the government took notice and started the procedure to make it official,” Ashok Kumar recalled.
Ashok Kumar then added, “The government gave us a gift to celebrate this day as the National Sports Day and instill love for sport among youngsters. The purpose was to motivate aspiring young sportsmen in the country. To make a path and provide opportunity to these youngsters. To get parents involved in sports. And it has had its effect. However, the kind of awareness that we should have seen in our schools and colleges somewhere seems neglected.
“The reason is lack of facilities, non-availability of grounds. So those who want to play hockey don’t have facilities. If a youngster wants to play football, where does he go? Athletics is reduced just to a formality. Just draw some parallel lines and make the youngsters run. That’s it.”
Recalling the days of his father Major Dhyan Chand, Ashok Kumar said, “although there was no atro-turf but special care used to be taken to prepare the ground for inter-university kind of tournament. These tournaments used to be big where large crowds would turn up to watch youngsters in action. All that’s missing now.”
Ashok Kumar is delighted that the government has decided to rename the Khel Ratna award after his father Major Dhyan Chand.
“Dhyan Chand belongs to the entire country,” Ashok Kumar said, further emphasizing, “Sports awards should be named after sportspersons.
“An athlete sacrifices a lot to carry the legacy of the sport. So it is better to name awards and stadiums after sportspersons. An athlete who dedicates 8-10 years of his/her life to sports deserves to be honoured,” he added.
Speaking on India’s bronze medal win at Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Ashok Kumar said, “Winning bronze in Tokyo is a huge achievement for India. I have been saying that we are playing so well, but for 40 years we were not getting a medal! But now we have got the medal. But with the medal comes a big responsibility. Because we will now be recognized in the world as an Olympic medal winning team,” Ashok Kumar said.
According to Ashok Kumar, this victory in Tokyo should help Indian hockey gain back its rhythm. He said, “Now it is the responsibility of Hockey India to prepare our teams well. This should also help create desire in teams from schools and colleges to perform well. This medal should act as an inspiration. The future of Indian hockey is bright and we will continue to do well. It remains to be seen how hockey is promoted. The central government and state governments and Hockey India to connect to think big and show a big heart for the game of hockey.”
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