'The Hockey India League made a big difference. It played an important role in the re-development of hockey in India'
For Indian hockey to capitalise on the gains made in the past decade, the national federation must revive the 'revolutionary' Hockey India League, feels legendary Australian coach Ric Charlesworth.
Charlesworth, who has worked with Indian hockey as the men's and women's teams' Technical Advisor for four months in 2008, is a widely respected coach around the world.
"I think India have been making steady progress. A decade ago they were 10th in the world, now realistically 5th. My view always was that it would take a decade to climb into the medal positions," the 66-year-old said.
"But I am not sure the domestic competition is deep enough in India. India need to get the Hockey India League (HIL) going. That's been the principle reason for the change," he said.
"India is playing in this tournament without Sardar (Singh), Rupinder (Pal Singh), SV Sunil and they still have a good team. India now has more depth," added Charlesworth on the sidelines of the ongoing men's hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
The cash-rich HIL's future looked uncertain when Hockey India postponed the 2018 edition because of financial issues. Some of the franchises threatened to withdraw claiming financial losses in the five seasons it played out.
However, Hockey India plans to bring back a revamped version of HIL next year in a fast-paced five-a-side format.
Charlesworth, who has also played cricket at the first-class level for Western Australia besides serving as the High Performance Manager of New Zealand Cricket in the past, said Indian hockey will find it difficult to sustain the rise without HIL.
"The Hockey India League made a big difference. It played an important role in the re-development of hockey in India," he said.
"The foreign coaches helped. The HIL saw foreign coaches and foreign players mixing with Indian players and that was important. It created a deeper pool of players but also gave the Indian players confidence that they could play against the best of the world," added Charlesworth, who guided title-holders Australia to back-to-back World Cups in 2010 and 2014.
Stating that the hosts have the firepower to recreate history for the first time since 1975, the former politician said the World Cup title will go to one of the top six teams.
"The winner will come from to six teams and I have said that before. I think Germany, Holland, Argentina, Belgium and India are favourites. One of them will be the winner," Charlesworth said.
Asked about eight-time champion India's podium chances in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he said, "I think it is possible. Realistically, India could win something here. But in the end, you have to be good enough to get into the semifinals from where anything can happen."
Just like other sports, hockey, is also looking to market itself better. But Charlesworth is against the idea of corporates driving the sport.
"Lots of the decisions are made because of money and it's pretty unfortunate," he said without specifying what exactly he found unfortunate.
"I am worried that there are gladiators in the arena now. Some of the decisions that are now made are not made for sports but for the sponsors and I think that's a great danger," he signed off.