Field Hockey was poorly represented at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles (LA), with just three nations that included India, hosts United States and Japan took part.
I wonder, if not for India making such a long journey, would the sport have remained in the Olympics with just two teams in it and not be scrapped by the IOC at the last minute looking at the dismal participation?
From India’s perspective, travelling to Los Angeles involved twice the cost than it did to travel to Amsterdam in 1928. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) under the new administration of M. Hayman and Pankaj Gupta were firm in sending a team to LA to defend the Olympic title.
A lot of critics in India pointed, “since a lot of teams were not taking part at the Olympics, was there any point in sending a hockey team all the way to LA and spending a lot of money?”
One must remember, India was a good decade and a half away from #Brexit. Funds exclusively for sports and for teams touring abroad was uncommon. The freedom movement had gathered momentum and a lot of influential Indians were part of it. While IHF was desperately seeking funds, backing from one of these Indians like Mahatma Gandhi would spark up the interest and pave the way for receiving funds from banks and other donors.
Charles Newham, a journalist was asked by the IHF to contact Mahatma Gandhi and tell him about the Indian hockey team and their desire to compete at the upcoming Olympics. Mahatma was busy with his political activities and Newham, with great difficulty managed to reach him and explained him the situation from IHF’s perspective. All he heard back from Mahatma was – ‘What is hockey’?
The Gandhi Mission was unsuccessful. It was left to Hayman and Pankaj Gupta to convince banks for a loan and they finally managed to get a loan from Punjab National Bank (PNB) in Kolkata.
With IHF left to themselves in arranging for the money, they came with a lot of ideas to generate funds to repay the loan granted by the PNB. One such idea was to play a lot of games at selected centres till they reached LA via Pacific Ocean. For their return, Pankaj Gupta came up with an idea and suggested players that few matches will be arranged post the Olympics in the Europe continent which would generate money to pay back the loan.
All players agreed with the idea of playing in Europe and were prepared to forgo their daily non-playing allowances of £2 per week while on tour in Europe. Instead of a simple return fare ticket, all players had round-the-world tickets. Onward via Pacific and return via Atlantic.
In addition, Bengal was again trusted with the task of creating a financial success out of the 1932 inter-provincial tournament, which also served as a selection tournament. Bengal Hockey Association contributed an amount close to 21,000 INR for the Olympic journey and expenses, earned from the inter-provincial tournament.
A lot of Americans had never seen field hockey before. Ice-hockey remained the only knowledge of hockey to most Americans. Wherever little hockey was played, it was due to the presence of Englishmen and women; mostly women players from Philadelphia. A local Los Angeles daily wrote:
“All the colour, glamour and pageantry of Rudyard Kipling’s India might well have found its incarnation in the personnel of the Indian hockey team, which is to represent the land of Mahatma Gandhi.
So agile are the members of the team that they can run the full length of the hockey field, juggling a small wooden ball with the flat of a hockey stick. One who knows nothing of the rigours of hockey should take a warning here. Don’t get in the line of fire on a hockey field, for the hockey ball, driven by a forehand or a backhand, is almost as deadly and as accurate as a cannon ball.
Should one doubt this, just let them watch the Indian players in their daily practice on the turf of the University.”
On August 4 1932, India played their first match against Japan and won it easily 11-1. Yet, the Indian team was disappointed with the fact that, they had conceded a goal – a first for India in the Olympics. The hockey wizard Dhyanchand scored four goals.
Next up against USA, a week later, it was a goal feast. Indians won the match 24-1. Dhyanchand scored 8 goals while his brother Roop Singh netted ten. The lone goal by America was from Bodlington.
The quality of hockey was amateurish considering the manner in which India handed them the defeats. The tournament as a whole resembled a tri-nations hockey meet, in which India emerged as the winners. India by a huge margin won the gold medal and thereby defended their 1928 title. All fifteen players who were selected took part in these two games.
Leaving costs aside, the decision to field the Indian team benefitted the International Hockey community as the skillful players from the sub-continent demonstrated the game of field hockey in a land, where hockey is still synonymous with ‘ice hockey’.