The 1975 World Cup win was a massive achievement for the Indian men’s hockey team. It was not only the first World Cup win that Indians were proud of but also the first podium finish in hockey in many years.
Not to forget, India had lost its authority in world hockey by 1975. They were no more the force they used to be. And this slump began from the 1968 Mexico Olympics where India finished with a bronze medal, something which is of great importance today but back in those days, the players had to hide their face while going back home if they clinched anything lesser than gold at world events.
That was the legacy and that was the cost of playing poor hockey. But due to politics and infight in the administration of the sport in India and among players, Indian hockey was was taking many blows in the field.
After Mexico Games, India did not win many major tournaments that could go on their CV. They finished third again at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Before that, in 1971, the first World Cup happened which was won by Pakistan. In the 1973 World Cup, India reached the finals where they lost to the Netherlands. At the same time, Pakistan’s hockey was peaking. They beat India in the finals of Asian Games twice, in 1970 at Bangkok and then in Tehran in 1974.
46 years ago #OnThisDay in 1975, the Indian Men’s Hockey Team brought home the maiden World Cup Title! __
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) March 15, 2021
That is why winning the 1975 World Cup was important, it was going to be that one gold medal at the biggest stage which would come after a long gap.
However, there was a possibility that Indian team could have missed the World Cup in Malaysia altogether. Courtesy the dirty politics in the sport.
The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) was divided into two factions and taking advantage of the same, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) took charge to run hockey in country for a brief period.
In December of 1975, thanks to government interventon, fresh elections took place under the watchful eyes of an Ombudsman. However, even after a fair result, IOA refused to pass on the baton to the freshly-elected body and as a result, Indian team’s training camp continued to be delayed.
Honoured Brig, HJS Chimni (Hockey) Gold Medal at 1975 World Cup. pic.twitter.com/XEBSbw0hbM
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) September 13, 2019
It was all thanks to Giani Jail Singh, the then CM of Punjab, that the team got all the facilities of training at the Panjab University in Chandigarh. Not just that, the Punjab government took care of all the expenses of three-month long training of the players. From their meals, to practice grounds, to hostels and per day allowances.
That one hurdle was crossed as officials continued to fight for ownership of IHF, on the ringside. And this tussle went for so long that till February 19 1975, merely two weeks from their first match in Malaysia, Indian team was not cleared to leave.
The major reason was that both – the newly elected IHF and the IOA – wanted to send the team under their banner and this created a huge headache for the goverment.
It was only after a strongly-worded letter to the Ministry of Sports sent by all the members of the Indian team that the clearance came and players boarded the flight.
Fondly remember legendary hockey player Padma Shri Balbir Singh Senior. On his first Death Anniversary today, Mohali International Hockey stadium is being dedicated to him. Balbir ji was a triple Olympic Gold Medallist and Manager & Chief Coach of the 1975 World Cup winning team. pic.twitter.com/8NZvmc2IX6
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) May 25, 2021
The players, in a letter sent to PM Indira Gandhi, said that if team is not cleared to go for World Cup in three days, all of them will quit playing.
A portion of the letter read, as reported by The Hindu: “We are thoroughly disgusted with the dirty politics and fight for power in high level sports bodies, including the IHF, which has ruined the national sport.
“.. We are left with no alternatives. After all, we are also human beings and all this dirty politics and uncertainty do affect our morale and game. We have been practicising here for more than seven hours a day for the last 3 months and have spared no efforts to try and bring back the last glory.
“Let the power hungry officials first fight out among themselves before a team is sent out for any competition.”
1975 :: Grand Reception Given In Bombay to Hockey Team On Winning World Cup pic.twitter.com/hWlQ5pM45z
— indianhistorypics (@IndiaHistorypic) August 1, 2021
It was one of the most powerful letters any team has ever written to the head of the state. And it was taken seriously and within two days, the Ajitpal Singh-led side left for Singapore from Bombay, where they played some warm-up games, and then to Malaysia to play the World Cup.
And as soon as they landed and checked in to their hotel in Kualalumpur, all politics, negativity was left behind. Harcharan Singh, who scored many decisive goals in the tournament for India, rememebers a scene where all Indian players saw the World Cup trophy – kept in the reception area of the hotel all participating teams were staying in – for the first time and they kept looking at it for some time. That trophy became their ultimate moment that very second.
India was the last team to reach Malaysia. They arrival was marred with many obstacles but they ensured when they returned, they had the cup in their hands, to somewhat restore the lost pride of Indian hockey.