Balbir Singh Dosanjh – India’s Hockey Legend
On 25th May 2020, condolence tweets and posts flooded the internet. India’s most prestigious hockey player and respected sportsperson, Balbir Singh, had passed away in a hospital in Mohali. In his last days, he was living with his daughter Sushbir and grandson Kabir.
The three-time Olympic Gold medalist has the unbreakable record of scoring five goals in a finale hockey match against Netherlands in 1952. He is remembered for scoring 246 goals in his career of 61 matches. In 1957, he became the first sportsperson to receive Padma Shree. A few years back, the International Olympic Committee named him amongst the 16 sports legends.
Born on 31st December 1923, Balbir Singh, son of a freedom fighter, was a true patriot. Since, childhood Balbir Singh was good at playing hockey and strongly opposed British rule. However, when spotted by John Bennett, the Punjab Inspector General of Police, reluctant Balbir Singh was forced to defend England in Olympic matches. These games exposed Balbir Sing Sr. to international hockey games. He utilized these experiences when he represented post-independence India.
“The Golden Hat-Trick”
In his autobiography, “The Golden Hat-Trick”, Balbir Singh recalls that putting a hockey team together in 1948 was difficult, as many players had shifted to Pakistan. Hence, seeing Indian flag hoisted on an international platform during the medal ceremony was a moment of glory for the nation as well as the entire team.
Click on this link to see Balbir Singh reliving his memories of the 1948 Olympics.
In 1965 when Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri asked Indian citizens to donate to National Defence Fund, Balbir Singh insisted on giving away medals that he had won in Olympic Games. However, the Punjab sports department refused to give into his requests as they believed that these medals were nations’ pride and hence, not some commodity to be sold. After keeping the medal in chief minister’s office for a month, the sports department sent back those medals to him.
After guiding India through several victories as Captain, Balbir Singh worked as the mentor and manager of several India Hockey Teams. In the year 1982, Balbir Singh took his retirement from the Punjab Sports Department.
A Friend from the Other Side
After the partition, Balbir Singh in his autobiography, “The Golden Hat-Trick”, recounts how the partition severed their relationships with the former teammates. He wrote that members of both teams despite being former teammates avoided all sorts of interactions with each other.
However, during a cricket test match of 2005 between India and Pakistan one of his former teammates, Shahzada Muhammad Shahrukh, who had to come to India to witness the match told a journalist that the match was just an excuse and he had actually come to meet his friend Balbir Singh.
This shows the Balbir Singh’s hospitable personality.
Balbir Singh further writes that the former teammate statement really took him by surprise. Further, when Shahzada Muhammad Shahrukh visited his home, they both revisited old memories and revived their friendship.
A Man of Few Words
Players coached by him remember him as a man of few words. They recall him as a strict-disciplinarian who narrated stories to keep them motivated. Remembered among his teammates and friends, for his detailed and comic narrations, Balbir Singh was an approachable and sociable man.
Final Adieu to the Hockey Champion
Balbir Singh lost his father in the year 1975, the year India won its last Hockey World Cup. Players recount that he did not miss a single practice session and only took off on 29th December to cremate his father. This incidence shows his devotion towards this nation, hockey and the spirit of sportsmanship.
His death is a loss to the entire nation. With him being gone Hockey will never be the same for Indians. However, his contributions, beliefs, ideals and teachings will always remain at the heart of Hockey games. This is our tribute to the stellar hockey player. May his soul rest in peace in this infinite universe.
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