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If football had followed the hockey model, Sunil Chhetri would have won the Ballon d’Or

With a population of around 1.4 billion, there is one area that Indians are almost guaranteed to dominate – the popularity contest. In any contest where Indians have a fair presence and which is based on public voting – online or on social media – there is a good chance that they will come out on top.

The Indian men’s hockey team won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, while the women’s finished fourth. Believable and historic as these achievements are, they finished behind Belgium and the Netherlands, who finished on the top leg of the podium in their respective events. Hence, it is no less than a derision that India won all the eight categories at the FIH Hockey Stars Awards 2020-21.

It is well known that India offers the most eyeballs in world hockey and generates the highest sponsorship. The combination of popularity and revenue generation prompted the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to lean back and help make India one of the game’s major players. Inclusion of them in elite tournaments for which they would not otherwise qualify and allotting the rights to host a major event each year may be considered an administrative decision aimed at securing the health of global sport. But when marketing and gimmicks encroach on what happens on the field to encourage fan engagement, it’s time for alarm bells.

Sport is meant to be a level playing field where excellence and hard work are rewarded, not just the popularity and amount of social media traffic one can generate. But in a game with a one-sided revenue generation model, TV ratings and the bottom line seem to be what happens on the pitch. India has no other reason to host two of the last three men’s World Cups (and the upcoming one), while a smaller country like Belgium, which has made rapid strides in the sport in a short period – culminated in the World Cup – Olympics. Double – is deprived of domestic benefits. And when they win on foreign turf, their achievements are not duly recognized in the awards organized by the world governing body of the sport.

It is well known that the sheer number of Indians – not only in the country but around the world – and their prolific activity on social media and other voting platforms can turn any contest in their favor. One just has to appeal to his patriotic and nationalist (or should we say linguist) tendencies to work his fingers.

Otherwise, how many serious hockey followers across the world would call Harmanpreet Singh the best player in the world ahead of the Belgian pair of Alexander Hendricks and Arthur van Doren?

Or put Gurjit Kaur ahead of Dutch women Eva de Goede and Frederik Matla? It is possible that most of the ‘fans’ who voted for the candidates representing India did not care or had heard about who was in the running. It is true that the voting system (50 per cent national captains and coaches, 25 per cent media and rest fans) was decided long ago, but no one could have predicted that it could provide such irrational results. Is.

Like no one predicted that the 2019 50-over World Cup final could be decided by which team hit more boundaries.

The hockey awards become even more attractive as the period from January 2020 to the Tokyo Olympics was covered.

Indian dominance in the online space is now an accepted fact. Any less-than-appreciative comment needs to be trolled at the fingertips of self-styled defenders of national honour.

Sachin Tendulkar Getting past the Laureus sporting moment of the past two decades was another example of emotion and sheer numbers trumping logic. He would have preferred to come out on top anyway, even before Virat Kohli Urged his fans to vote for his paaji.

Similarly, Amitabh Bachchan He was voted the greatest actor ever based on the voting skills of Indians. It shows which country has the most people inactive to restore national honor online. There is only one country with a larger population than India – China, but despite being a sports superpower, they rarely win such awards. Maybe they don’t have much voting experience!

winning isn’t everything

Coming back to the FIH awards, one could argue that Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders and Argentines could have voted in larger numbers for their candidates. Only 19 of the 42 European member federations were represented in the voting process, while around 300,000 fans participated – a record. Safe to say, a big chunk of them would have gone to the winning candidates.

Those who did best on the field – where it really mattered – right or wrong, began to believe that winning the biggest prize in the game would outlast everything else.

They may not have bargained for any one-eyed ‘fans’, ignoring all factors except the nationality of the candidate and the coach of the team.

It may be worthwhile to go to a jury of former players and administrators who understand the game and what lies behind the excellence of the highest order. Otherwise, such rewards will reward popularity more than quality.

One trembles to think what would happen if football followed hockey’s model of recognizing its best. Maybe, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s hold on the coveted Ballon d’Or ended long before it actually happened – courtesy a certain Sunil Chhetri and a suddenly budding army of Indian fans!

It also helps that no country drives revenue for football the way India does for cricket and hockey.

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