chapter  4
15 Pages

Hitler’s Games: Captain Dhyan Chand and Indian Nationalism in the Third Reich

Despite having comprehensively beaten the world in 1928 and 1932, India’s supremacy in field hockey was still in doubt on the eve of the Berlin Games in 1936. This was because all of Europe had stayed away from the 1932 hockey competition at Los Angeles on account of the Great Depression and also because European hockey had improved by quite a few notches in the interim. Accordingly, trying to defend the title at Berlin in 1936 was the biggest challenge Indian hockey had ever faced. That India was ready for it was evident when the Indian team won all 48 matches on its tour of New Zealand in 1935.2

But it’s the nature of sport that even the greatest of champions can have an off-day. There was a big flutter when the Indian Olympic team, picked after the inter-province trials at Calcutta in January-February 1936, lost 1-4 to a Delhi Hockey XI on 16 June at the Mori Gate ground. This was unprecedented and the shock defeat started dark murmurs. Touring international cricket sides would in later years learn to attribute their defeats in the Indian capital to the mysterious malady called ‘Delhi belly’. Dhyan Chand, the newly appointed captain of the national team, did not, of course, use the same excuse but his bewilderment and shock were there for all to see. In his autobiography, published 16 years later, he beautifully described the after-effect of this wake-up call:

My experiences thus far had been to win matches and not lose them. I remember that in 1932, after our return from the Olympic tour, we beat Delhi by 12 goals to nil. I never recognized Delhi as a big hockey playing center, but on this day they were right on top of us and completely outplayed us. The news of this defeat created adverse opinions about us, and while we were touring other centers before we finally sailed from Mumbai, this particular defeat kept worrying me. For the first time I was captaining the Olympic team; will India lose the title under my charge?3