Bovelander: “India needs a good programme to get back on top”

“In India, you learn to play on artificial turf when you are 16 or 18 years old, by which time you have developed a certain style that is not suitable for the surface. This is the area of development that India and certain other Asian countries missed after the 1980s or the 1990s,” says the legendary Floris Jan Bovelander.

Floris Jan Bovelander was a principal member of the Netherlands team that won the trophy at the 1990 FIH World Cup in Lahore and the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Post retirement, the legendary defender and penalty-corner specialist is involved in helping India regain its lost glory in hockey. Bovelander is increasingly becoming synonymous with the grassroots development programmes here. One of the programmes aims to create ‘one million hockey legs’ by 2018.

However, the most striking initiative undertaken by the Dutchman is quietly revolutionising the lives of two districts in Jharkhand. Speaking to Sportstar, Bovelander says that in four years time there will be enough good players from the region to boost the junior programme of the country. The scheme, called the Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives and funded by Tata Trusts, is changing the lives of children from around 500 schools in the districts of Khunti and West Singhbhum.

With the help of his academy Bovelander and Bovelander, based in Haarlem, the Dutch great seeks to harness the best of talent in the Tata Hockey Academy, which will become operational in a few months in Jamshedpur. Bovelander, who is of the view that the Hockey India League should have an under-16 tournament to give impetus to youth development, speaks of Tata Trusts’ initiative, world hockey and Indian hockey among other things, via Skype from the Tata Trusts’ office in Khunti.

Question: What are your plans with regard to the grassroots development already underway?

Answer: As I look at Jharkhand, specifically the Khunti and West Singhbhum districts, I find that they are learning a lot of life skills through the programme. Hockey helps them in communicating better and gives them the skill to deal with winning and losing. But in the end, the talented players should have a place where they should be able to explore their talents and become the best players or at least get the most out of themselves. The THA will give these players a place where they can explore their talent in the sport and one day become good enough to represent the state and subsequently the national team. The goal is to see that the best of the best are trained by good trainers and hopefully you will start getting good players for the junior teams.

Have you set any goals or a timeline when the kids would start playing for the state teams?

To make it easy, let’s say four years. Of course, you like to get there as soon as possible. But to be realistic, you need two to three years to settle down. Once the academy in Jamshedpur comes up, we expect to have some good results in three years time. For me, it is also very important to improve the girls, who, it appears, do not enjoy the same facilities like the boys and are quite backward in comparison. So, I would like to include them in the academy in two years time. If you have the talent then you can really grow quickly in a good environment.

It is almost four decades since India won the gold at the Olympics or the FIH World Cup. Your views on this…

Indian hockey is on the rise again. The HIL is one of the best hockey tournaments in the world, which gives enough inspiration to the players here to grow in the sport. The area where India needs to work on is the grassroots level. It has to set up good competitions at the school and youth level. And once it is backed by some good results then Indian hockey is bound to get back to the top.

Do you think it will be a good idea for the Hockey India League to have separate age-group tournaments?

I think it is a very good idea. If the teams of HIL start doing grassroots development in their regions, it will be a big benefit. It would be a good idea to have an under-16 tournament attached to the HIL and that would surely boost youth development.

What in your opinion is restricting Indian hockey?

The main difference between hockey 40 years ago and now are the changes in the rules and artificial pitches. Like you see here in rural India, people play a different style of hockey because of the playing surface. In Europe, most of the people are used to playing on artificial surface which needs a different style and technique. In India, you learn to play on artificial turf when you are 16 or 18 years old, by which time you have developed a certain style that is not suitable for the surface. This is the area of development that India and certain other Asian countries missed after the 1980s or the 1990s. In the last few years, Hockey India did a good job by introducing the HIL and getting some good foreign coaches, which introduced Indian players to the Western style of play.

I hope this will popularise the sport once again as the communities start adopting hockey in a bigger way. The World Cup in 2018 (to be held in Bhubaneswar) will also help in the development of the sport here. There are not many countries — I think there are hardly four or five countries, which had both the men’s and women’s teams playing in the Olympics, and with both the Indian men’s and women’s teams playing in the last Olympics (Rio de Janeiro 2016), it was a good development.

What is the difference between the children who play hockey in your country and the ones playing here?

I have not noticed much difference. In the end, the main point is being enthusiastic about hockey. The children here are nice and friendly, but of course at home (in the Netherlands) the equipments are better and they play on artificial pitches with shin guards. When it comes to willingness to learn and the attitude towards hockey, I must say we have a lot of similarities than differences.

In your opinion which is the world’s best men’s hockey team now?

It is a difficult one. I don’t think there is a best team in hockey at this point. I find things getting very close from the quarterfinal stage onwards in the big tournaments. Argentina becoming the Olympic champion is big news, but I don’t think they can be called the best. I think there are eight very good teams and India belongs to that group. I was very impressed with the India under-21 team (which won the junior World Cup in December). Australia generally are a very good team but at this point they are not.

Which is the toughest team you have played against?

In the first part of my career it was Australia and later it was Germany. Although we lost the final of the World Cup (1994) to Pakistan, I think Australia and Germany were the toughest teams to beat.

As a penalty-corner specialist, what do you think of the two-goal rule for field goals? Do you think this will kill the art of penalty corners?

This is a good decision, but a penalty corner conversion will always be appreciated as a great goal in hockey. Some goals should come from penalty corners. It is easy to watch and understand for the spectators. It also adds some excitement, which is also very good. Putting two points to a field goal has not changed hockey much and it won’t help much if the teams become too defensive. As long as it helps in making the game exciting, it is good.


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