It might come as a surprise to a lot of people but Field Hockey is not the national sport of India. In fact, there is no such thing as the national sport of India. The notion is so deep seated and widespread that it is probably one of the most striking cases of mass delusion. That aside, the fact that the whole country believes hockey to be the sport most representative of the country and its culture makes it a strong contender for the non-existent post. On closer examination, however, hockey’s case is considerably weakened.
The most popular argument cited in hockey’s favour points to the unparalleled success that India has achieved in the sport. Eight Olympic golds are undoubtedly a great achievement but achievement itself is not a sound enough basis to confer the status of a national symbol to any sport. Success is not of a permanent nature and is thus useless as a yardstick for a permanent status. As it is, hockey has largely disappointed since the 1980s.
The other criteria put forward especially by cricket supporters is popularity. Cricket is undoubtedly the most popular sport in India. However, popularity is again not permanent. Cricket supporters forget that prior to India’s world cup triumph, Cricket wasn’t such a huge sport in India, which means that things could alter again. Thus popularity does not make a sport a national symbol.
It makes sense to argue that the national sport of the country should be accessible to most of the population. Games like kabaddi and kho kho immediately come to mind. Hockey loses out in this category. Even if one omits the requirement of a synthetic playing surface, hockey is comparatively expensive. Unlike cricket where one bat can be shared amongst a group of players, hockey requires one stick per player.
The most important criterion, then, has to be cultural relevance. A sport should be culturally relevant to the entire nation for it to be considered a national symbol. This is probably why India does not have a national sport. If kabaddi is culturally relevant in the north, the snake boat race is an unmistakable feature of south India. To find a sport which culturally appeals to the whole nation is practically impossible. The only sport that can bypass this difficulty is chess, as it meets most of the above requirements. Moreover, most historians believe that chess originated from India itself.