Mumbai, April 27 (IANS) While the entire country was shocked when a top Indian hockey official was caught on camera allegedly taking a bribe, actor and brand ambassador for hockey Suniel Shetty thinks it was the best thing to happen to the sport in years.
'This exposure of what lies beneath is the first step towards recuperation. If the sting operation is true it's the best thing to happen to hockey,' Suniel told IANS in an interview.
'Today everyone has woken up to the changes required in hockey. Why blame the players only? It's time now to make drastic changes.'
Even though the actor does not approve of sting operations as a rule, he says, 'If it's for the good of the nation like the Jyothikumaran operation, I'm all for it.' He was referring to the sting that allegedly caught Indian Hockey Federation general secretary K. Jyothikumaran taking a bribe to select a player. The official has since quit the post.
Suniel, a diehard sports fan, wants a professional body like the Board of Control for Cricket In India (BCCI) to look after the affairs of hockey in the country.
'We need energetic focused people like Rajiv Shukla (BCCI vice-president) and Sharad Pawar (BCCI chief) supporting our national sport. These are people for whom the money wouldn't matter. They'd do it for the love of the sport.'
The actor is also all excited about the Indian Premier League (IPL) and wishes something on similar lines for hockey.
'The IPL is just the beginning. What happened to baseball and soccer in the US is happening to cricket in India. Why can't we have a similar fate for hockey? Five years down the line I see the same happening to hockey.'
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: On one end you've been talking of taking the game forward. But this takes hockey 10 steps backwards?
A: I disagree. This exposure of what lies beneath is the first step towards recuperation. The worst was when India failed to qualify for hockey in the Olympics for the first time in 80 years. The team, coach, managers were all wrongly selected. I know we've a humongous amount of talent in our hockey team. If the sting operation is true it's the best thing to happen to hockey. God has his own way of cleansing our conscience and our society. Today everyone has woken up to the changes required in hockey. Why blame the players when you suddenly choose someone who's never been part of any team to play for the country? A game is about the team spirit. The guy who passes on the ball has to have the confidence in the next guy. It's time now to make drastic changes.
Q: Like what?
A: We should have a body akin to cricket's BCCI, a board to control hockey. And we need energetic focused people like Rajiv Shukla and Sharad Pawar supporting our national sport. These are people for whom the money wouldn't matter. They'd do it for the love of the sport. Look at cricket and cricketers from India. They're on the world map. The IPL is just the beginning. What happened to baseball and soccer in the US is happening to cricket in India. Why can't we have a similar fate for hockey? Five years down the line I see the same happening to hockey. I'm happy that favouritism and corruption in the game are going to end.
Q: Do you approve of the sting operation?
A: Not as a rule, not if it's to mess up someone's personal life. But if it's for the good of the nation like the Jyothikumaran operation I'm all for it.
Q: Don't you think sport in our country is being over-commercialised?
A: Which aspect of our life is not? Everything is up for sale. Even if the IPL is for money it's still a creative endeavour. What about the Football Premier League all over the world? It has made football the No.1 game worldwide. When someone has that uniform on it's a different feeling altogether. The IPL has just 5-6 foreign players. The rest are all our own boys.
Q: But the loyalty factor gets mixed up for the spectator?
A: That's true. Mumbai is my karam-bhoomi (work place) and Bangalore is my janam-bhoomi (birth place). When the two play against each other I wouldn't know which way my loyalty would go. But we'll settle that.
Q: So why aren't you part of the IPL?
A: I lacked the vision and the monies. I'm happy to see Shah Rukh there, and doing so brilliantly.
Q: What are the concrete plans for hockey?
A: I wanted to spread awareness about the game, probably get the spirit going. Now what we need is a committee to make drastic changes. And that's already happening. I'm there to support and promote hockey in every way possible. When they had made Dhanraj Pillai sit on the bench at the peak of his career, I protested on his behalf. Today, every sport needs a star to be promoted whether it's Ronaldo or (David) Beckham. Dhanraj was our star. When they kicked him out I knew there was corruption.
Q: Will you be able to give time to hockey?
A: Of course I will. I believe every celebrity owes it to society to support worthy causes. And if the cause is for the country then nothing like it.
Q: You were one of the first actors to bring in a spirit of entrepreneurship to the industry?
A: Oh, absolutely. I think we need to learn a lesson from our senior actors who did so well for themselves and then died in poverty. It's a very fickle industry. All it takes is a Friday and you're forgotten. You've to secure your future. Don't make movies the be-all and end-all of your life. That's why I did what I had to do with my finances. I'm a very strong individual. And I value my self-respect. Even if I had five flops no one can claim to have signed me as a favour. I never had godfathers. But I've terrific friends like Ajay Devgan, Sanjay Dutt, Salman (Khan), Govinda and Shah Rukh Khan who've constantly supported me.