The Conundrum of Hockey as The National Sport

14 Aug 2021  Read 7023 Views

Every school-going child has been tutored to believe that peacock is our National Bird, lion is our National Animal and Hockey is our National Sport. Hockey has been attributed as the National Sport of India since the textbooks of our childhood. However, it is high time for the people of this nation to do some unlearning regarding the misconception of Hockey being the National Sport of India.


It is a widely misconceived concept that Hockey owns the pedestal as the National Sport of India. However, in reality, Hockey has never been provided with the position of National Sport in India; infact, no sport in Indian history has been established as a National Sport in the legal sense. The Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (hereinafter, "Union Ministry") had declared almost a decade ago in 2012, as a reply to a request under Right to Information Act, 2005 (hereinafter, "RTI"), that Hockey is not the National Sport of India. 

This information has been reiterated time and again by the Union Ministry under various requests of RTI. In the most recent RTI request by a school teacher of Maharashtra in January 2020, the Union Ministry replied to the question of Hockey being declared as the National Sport, that "Government Authorities have not put in any Sport as the National Sport of the Nation in a legal declaration, since it is the objective of the Government and authorities to promote each and every popular and potential sport discipline, while also not putting in all its focus on a single one by declaring it as a National Sport."

Absence of a National Sport in India and Artificial Factors Applied for Determination of National Sport

There is no denying that Hockey has been held as our National Sport through our textbooks right from the primary level in India's education system. The perception of Hockey as the National Sport can be attributed to the highly successful pathway of the Indian Men's Hockey team in the early 1900s at the Olympics and to the fact that it was one of the earliest sports to gain such success and popularity. However, in the legal sense, there is no such National Sport.

There are many artificial factors which may be applied for the determination of a national sport including popularity, success, accessibility, cultural relevance and so on. 'Success' and 'popularity' go hand-in-hand and are not the best criteria for such a decision of national sport since it is highly volatile and unstable. 

Did you know?
In the early 1900s, Hockey was considered as the most successful and popular path in sports. However, it changed when India won the prominent Cricket World Cup in 1983 to replace Hockey as the most popular and successful game in India. 

Secondly, 'accessibility' is one of the most essential parts in deciding the national status of a sport. Accessibility does not just include the access to sports gear, infrastructure and other relevant equipment, rather also the affordability of such equipment. For instance, 'Cricket', as a popular sport, does not have accessibility and affordability in its favour since half the population of India struggles with acquiring the expensive gear used in it.

Lastly, 'cultural relevance' also plays an important part in deciding a nation's national sport. However, in a country with the most complex demographics such as India, it becomes highly troublesome to select a single sport that has significance for all the varied cultures present. A sport like 'Kabaddi' is highly culturally relevant in the northern parts of India such as in Punjab, Haryana etc., originating from the Vedic Period. It has been well established through various official competitions taking place as early as in the 1920s. On the other hand, 'Canoe Racing' is the most popular sport in the southern parts such as Kerala and other parts of India such as Bengal. Henceforth, it becomes onerous and tedious to select a single sport as a National Sport in India. 

Rationale behind Plea for Hockey as the National Sport

On 9th of August 2021, a Public Interest Litigation (hereinafter, "PIL") was filed in the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India by lawyer Vishal Tiwari, in the context of seeking recognition of the game of Hockey as the National Sport of India. The PIL also sought to require sports authorities as well as the Government to push for the advancement of various games played at the Olympic level and not just merely popular games such as Cricket.

The PIL filed in the Hon'ble Supreme Court aims at advancement of various sports as well as establishing Hockey as the National Sport. According to the applicant, the popular perception of Hockey as a National Sport shall be legally recognised by the appropriate Government Authority as a part of its objective to uplift the sports industry and discipline. 

In furtherance of the same objective, the plea applies for providing of due funds as well as proper facilities and appropriate infrastructure for the development of the sports sector. The PIL has urged the Union Ministry to initiate public accountability of the allocation of funds used in the sports industry as well as to house a greater responsibility towards it by due broadcasting of various sports events for the promotion of such activities. 

The PIL makes use of the highly rich history of Hockey in India and various accolades brought in by Indian Hockey players, right from the six consecutive gold medals at the Olympic level (1928 – 1956) to the latest bronze medal in the 2021 Olympics by our National Hockey team, for the purpose of highlighting the importance of Hockey as a game, both in context of popularity and success in India. 

The PIL considered it noteworthy that the arbitral allocation of the funds, a poor infrastructure, absence of international level facilities along with failure to provide allowances to the potential athletes and their kin has resulted in the apparent decline of the fame of Hockey as a sport. Therefore, it is of high priority to bring back hockey in its ultimate glory with proper initiative and support by the Government of India and other Sports Authorities, while ensuring the standard of this sport being at its par.


India does not have a 'National Sport' declared legally due to its highly varied and enriched cultural differentia, since it is close to impossible to inculcate the interests of every culture and section of India so as to make one single sport as the National Sport. The various artificial factors such as success, popularity and accessibility changes spontaneously over the years and cannot be relied upon to make such a permanent and everlasting decision. 

Though Hockey is not officially recognised as the National Sport of India, yet, it has remained as the crown jewel of the Indian sports industry for many decades and hence certainly qualifies as one of the strongest candidates to being the National Sport of India. 

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About the Author: Sakshi Shrivastava | 15 Post(s)

Sakshi is a 3rd year student at Hidayatullah National Law University, with a keen interest in Corporate and Competition Laws. She describes herself as an extrovert known to be quite vexing!

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