“Life is game, hockey is serious”

Manoj Mahala and Deepthi Indukuri run a website that provides the latest news for hockey fans. The founders, ardent hockey fans, have helped fill a void in sports journalism that pays little attention to our national sport.

As millions of fans cheered for the Indian hockey team during the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament, one particular fan in namma Bengaluru decided to show his support for the Indian team in a different way. Manoj Mahala, 27, felt that the team deserved more than the scant press coverage it was receiving during the tournament.

To show his support to the team, Mahala started TheFansofHockey.com, a blog to provide news about the Indian hockey team. "The lack of consistent media coverage was something a lot of fans noticed and were discussing on Orkut (the once-popular social media website). I felt something had to be done and thus started the blog," says Mahala, a Ph.D. student at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

The fans of hockey team with Dhanraj Pillay. Pic courtesy: Mahala

Small beginnings

Mahala, whose interests lie in hockey, photography, and web designing, believes that it made an ideal combination to start the blog. He works on it during the free time he gets when not doing his research in product design for vehicle safety. Mahala was joined by Deepthi Indukuri, 27, a research associate at IISc who shares his passion for sports photography and is a hockey fan too.

The blog has now evolved into a full fledged website and regularly gets 500-600 hits every day. "The number of visitors shoots up considerably during the hockey season, averaging 5,000 pageviews a day. During the India-Pakistan match last year, the website even crashed because of the surge," says Mahala. The website’s Facebook page has over 3,500 fans, and its Twitter page has over 700 followers.

In a span of two years, the initiative has come a long way. Mahala began reaching out to hockey players online and writing to various hockey associations and clubs across the country to get updates on the latest events news in the sport. "I try and meet the officials, players, and coaches when they visit Bangalore for matches. I am now considered as part of the media," says Mahala.

Currently, website includes articles written by the team including event reports, along with content sourced from press releases from clubs at the national level to those from other countries such as Argentina, Pakistan, England, and Australia. There are also schedules of and results of tournaments across the world. A small number of articles are contributed by hockey aficionados across the country.

Interest in hockey

Despite a keen interest in athletics since his childhood, Mahala’s tryst with hockey did not begin until he moved to Bangalore for his Ph.D in 2007. A native of Phephna, a town in Rajasthan, he saw students playing the game in IISc campus and joined them. "Hockey is a sport where you have to be alert during every minute of a game. It tests your skill, agility, alertness, and stamina. Your body and mind has to be synchronous while playing," says Mahala as he explains why the sport gives him a rush.

"At IISc, the saying goes ‘Life is game, hockey is serious’ and that’s how much I am passionate about the sport,"says Mahala.

Manoj Mahala. Pic: Deepthi Indukuri

‘Hockey needs more support’

The Shah Rukh Khan starrer movie "Chak De", based on hockey, might have provided a brief surge in the popularity of the game when it was released in 2007 and increased awareness about hockey, but Mahala feels that the game is still to a large extent ignored by the media. He feels the men’s team largely goes unnoticed and the women’s team even more so.

However, he does not blame the media entirely for the current situation. "Right now, the Indian hockey team, both men’s and women’s teams are not performing to their full potential. There will be more people following the game as the team starts performing well," he says. He cites the example of of badminton and boxing, "The games became more popular after sportsperson like Saina Nehwal and Sushil Kumar began winning medals. Now people follow the game more keenly," he says.

Manoj Mahala (right) posing with Olympian Dileep Tirkey (left) with the calendar made for the website. Pic courtesy: Manoj Mahala

Mahala is, however, quick to add that it is not that India does not have good players. "There needs to be a lot of improvement in the infrastructure, coaching, and the domestic tournament structure, which the government needs to invest in. Instead we are stuck in a vicious cycle where the authorities want the sport to gain more popularity before it invests more which will not happen unless players start performing well," he says.

Mahala and Deepthi’s interest in photography has also led to them to focus on hockey photography. "It is a small but an important reward for the sportspersons to know that their photographs are being clicked. If you notice, there aren’t many good hockey photographs out there. Sometimes the same pictures are reused," says Mahala.

Way forward

Mahala is looking for investors to develop the website into a full-fledged hockey news portal. He plans to finish his research in the next year or two, after which he wants to focus on the website full-time. "I want to start generating original content similar to what a website like espncricinfo.com does; however, I do realize that the road ahead is challenging," sign off Mahala.

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