Indian hockey’s Olympic dream, for both men’s and women’s teams, will begin next Saturday in New Delhi. It will carry on beyond the nine-day tournament if they finish on top as only the title winners will advance to the London Games beginning in July.India’s prestige is at stake, particularly in the men’s competition, as the country which won eight Olympic gold medals in the previous century would not be able to bear the setback of missing a second successive Olympics. The men’s team faltered at the last hurdle in 2008 and failed to qualify for the Beijing Games.Of course, the fate of the two teams would largely depend on the players’ performance. It remains to be seen how they would perform with the huge sword of expectations hanging over their heads. Booking a berth at the Olympics is not impossible, but it won’t be a cakewalk either, despite the home advantage.The hockey players would do well to motivate themselves by rewinding to the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led cricket team’s remarkable World Cup triumph under intense scrutiny and expectations last year at home.However, after all, hockey is a game and players too are human beings. They too can fumble, though one fervently hopes that they play their best hockey in that crucial nine-day period.But just in case the Indian dream is shattered, a portion of the blame would go to Hockey India (HI) – for having instituted tickets for the qualifying tournament. Knowing the mind-set of Indian sports fans, particularly those in Delhi – of trying to secure passes rather than buying tickets – the decision to have ‘gates’ is likely to discourage die-hard hockey fans from going to the stadium.advertisementLesser support could possibly mean a dip in the players’ performance. Ask any player and he/ she would say that they love to play in front of packed galleries as vocal support and the fluttering national flag pumps up their adrenaline and raises their game. It was entirely up to HI to have ‘gates’; the international hockey federation (FIH) puts no such condition, a source said.HI surprisingly feels that revenue is more important than attracting spectators to cheer the team in a crucial tournament. “If we don’t generate revenues, how will we meet our expenditure? Moreover, neither does the FIH pay a penny for staging the qualifiers nor the sports ministry,” she added. “In fact, all FIH-related payments to umpires/ officials, air fare for its officials and visa fees are borne by HI. So, we have to generate funds to meet all these expenditures. The government will only pay for the Indian teams’ accommodation.”The question is: what is the guarantee that people would definitely buy tickets when the matches are also going to be televised live? “There’s no guarantee, but there’s something called hope, and we expect people to buy tickets,” she put up a weak defence. Delhi’s fans have largely ignored hockey, and even cricket, as we witnessed during the India-England ODI last year when many seats at the Ferozeshah Kotla remained empty.During the hockey World Cup and the CWG in 2010, people thronged the 17,000-plus stadium but only for India’s matches. During the World Cup, when fans ignored non-India matches, complimentary passes were distributed to entities like the BSF, CRPF, ONGC, and Railways etc. to fill up the stands. And when the men’s and women’s Test matches were played recently, only a few hundred fans turned up at the National Stadium.HI should have learnt from those experiences and thrown open the gates to fans to support the team for the Olympic qualifiers. Of course, security can be cited as a reason, but there’s no guarantee that those who would buy tickets won’t make mischief. Imagine the plight of HI if fans keep away, the stands remain empty and the teams fail to qualify.===He seems to have changed his mind Skipper MS Dhoni emphasises that the rotation policy does not work with the Indian team.To rotate or not to rotate is the question in the mind of Indian skipper MS Dhoni. Dhoni, who had said last week that players would be rotated during the on-going triangular ODI series in Australia, had earlier emphasised several times that the rotation policy doesn’t work with the Indian team.Apparently the main reason, which he didn’t outline, is that we aren’t good at handling defeat. We are scared of giving opportunities to youngsters for the fear of losing and want to win each time with the same set of experienced players. Dhoni too maintains this belief, but one wonders what triggered this sudden change in thinking.advertisementOne reason could be that the team is away from the maddening home crowds and there would be less criticism if it loses while experimenting with youngsters. Otherwise, it’s difficult to comprehend that the selectors have made rotation of players a stated policy and the BCCI has agreed to it too.===Football suffers as AIFF refuses to mend its ways The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is headed by Praful Patel.The All India Football Federation (AIFF) functions in a bizarre manner. And the age-old narrow mind-set of administrators doesn’t seem to be changing.Irrespective of who is at the helm, AIFF seems to focus on petty issues, conveniently ignoring its larger responsibility of promoting the game around the country. And this, to a large extent, is responsible for the game not having grown to its true potential.Take, for instance, the issue of foreign players’ participation in the upcoming IPL-style Premier League Soccer (PLS). The Praful Patel-headed AIFF first allowed the Indian Football Association (IFA), the quaintlynamed governing body of West Bengal, to go ahead with the lucrative tournament. Then, apparently on second thoughts, it decided to find faults with the PLS.In reality, it’s a tale of insecurity on the part of the AIFF and ego clashes between officials of the IFA, AIFF and the promoters, say those who are in the know. “They will have to realise that no state has a copyright on football; it’s a national game and all AIFF decisions have to be taken in the national interest,” observed an official. “Unfortunately, the AIFF is effectively a spineless body as it can neither take decisions nor implement them without the approval of certain administrators in the IFA.===Awaiting sports act Mukul Mudgal, retired chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.Even as he keeps his fingers crossed over the fate of the National Sports Bill that he helped draft, Mukul Mudgal, retired chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, says that he would be “delighted” if Parliament passes it. The revised draft is presently with the Union Cabinet.”If it comes into force within a year, I’d be delighted that I’ve done something for Indian sport,” Mudgal told Mail Today.He emphasised that the bill is not aimed at taking away independence of the national sports federations (NSFs), as some people fear.When Sports Minister Ajay Maken first presented the bill to the Cabinet, it was rejected. It was then re-drafted.”We’ve taken care to see that if anything arbitrary is done, there’s a sports ombudsman to look at it,” points out the sports-loving judge.