Here's Why India Doesn't Have a National Sport

Indian Hockey Player at Rio Olympics 2016 | © Hockey India / WikiCommons
Indian Hockey Player at Rio Olympics 2016 | © Hockey India / WikiCommons
Photo of Vishal Ingole
15 January 2018

Every school-going Indian child is taught that the peacock is the national bird of India, Jana Gana Mana the national anthem and hockey the national sport. But surprisingly, hockey is actually not the national sport of the country. Then what is it?

If you are one of those yesteryear kids who grew up believing hockey was the national sport of the country, you are in for a shock. India does not recognize any particular sport as their ‘national game.’ This has been confirmed by the Sports Ministry of India.

A hockey match | © Rohit Markande / Flickr

This revelation came to light when a young 12-year-old girl name Aishwarya Parashar filed an RTI request to the Prime Minister’s Office in order to get certified copies of orders related to the declaration of the national anthem, sport, song, bird, animal, flower and the country’s symbol. The query about the national sport was forwarded to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. In response to the RTI, the Sports Ministry confirmed that it had not declared any sport or game as the ‘national game.’

This makes us wonder why hockey has so long been known as the national sport of India. Some would say that the international success of hockey since its Olympic debut in 1928 made the sport a household name. The Indian hockey team won six Olympic gold medals from 1928 to 1956 and 11 until 1980. But since then, hockey has been a major disappointment on the international stage, even though, right now, it ranks fifth in the world.

India vs. New Zealand Cricket ODI | © Chubby Chandru / WikiCommons

Success does not remain unchanged and is not the best criterion for deciding the national sport of a country. This is probably why hockey doesn’t qualify to receive that honour. The next criterion could be popularity, as cited by cricket lovers of India. But cricket wasn’t popular in India before the 1981 World Cup win. Things could change again and another sport could become more popular than cricket. Therefore, popularity isn’t the right yardstick to give any game the national sport’s status.

Accessibility is another factor that determines which game could achieve the status of national sport. Hockey and cricket are both expensive sports. While hockey requires one stick per player and also a synthetic playing surface, cricket requires a bat and a ball, besides other gear like gloves, shoes and a helmet. A large section of India’s population is underprivileged and doesn’t have the means to a square meal a day, let alone sports gear. This makes most sports inaccessible to a major portion of the population.

Children playing football | © Qirille / WikiCommons

Football is a relatively inexpensive sport. You only need one ball for two teams to play with. In many lanes and bylanes, you can find young boys playing football with a coconut shell or a plastic bottle when they don’t have access to a ball. But unfortunately, India barely has any place on the international football scene. Even though local clubs are quite popular, for a sport to be named a national game, it has to have international success. That rules out football.

Cultural relevance becomes the remaining factor in deciding the national sport of a country. But India has so many different cultures that it is difficult to pick one sport that has significance for all cultures. Kabaddi is popular in the north, boat racing is popular in the south and football is popular in Bengal. It is therefore impossible to find a single sport that is important to everyone.

It now makes sense why India does not have a national sport. With so many people and cultures, it is impossible and impractical to choose one game that will appeal to the entire nation. Until India figures out what its national sport is, people will rejoice about cricket and read about hockey in history books.