August 29, 2017
In the same month that we celebrate India’s National Independence and its continued economic vibrancy, the extraordinary life story of Dhyan Chand provides a striking illustration of the subcontinent’s cultural strengths. The same strengths that have proved to be such a potent catalyst in helping make India the fastest growing large economy on the planet and which provide a compelling vindication of Red Ribbon’s decision, more than a decade ago, to place the subcontinent at the heart of its Mainstream Impact Investment strategies.
Dhyan Chand was born in Allahabad in 1905 and both the date and the place of his birth are significant. Less than fifty years previously the City had been the epicentre of British military rule in the Raj as well as the scene of a highly inflammatory massacre after Maulvi Ali famously unfurled his banner from the City’s walls. Chand’s father was an officer in the same British Indian Army that had so brutally suppressed the insurrection.
Dhyan Chand followed in the family tradition. He joined the British Indian Army just like his father had, but he crucially joined after the Army had been “Indianised’ in 1912 (a notable precursor to India’s eventual Independence); and just like his father, young Dhyan also played hockey for the Army…In fact, he played hockey very well indeed.
Chand went on to win hockey gold medals in three successive Olympic Games starting in 1928 in Amsterdam. Great Britain had truculently decided against sending a hockey team to Amsterdam having been soundly beaten by a touring Indian side (which included Chand) two years earlier; a decision described even by a contemporary observer as “a very stiff attitude” on the part of the colonial masters. But the Indian Team’s startling success at Amsterdam was met by unconfined joy back home: “This is not a game of hockey, but magic. Dhyan Chand is, in fact, the magician of hockey”, wrote the Times of India.
32,000 people met the team on their return to Bombay from Amsterdam two months later, in stark contrast to the three casual observers who had seen them off from the docks five months beforehand. And then, more famously still and now under Chand’s leadership, the Team went on to win a third gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics: beating Germany 8-1 in the Final under the disapproving eyes of the Nazi Leadership and an incandescent Adolf Hitler.
Which is why Chand’s birthday on 29 August is now celebrated in India as National Sports Day. His extraordinary life was much more than a game of hockey. Born into the British Raj; serving in the British Indian Army and, through sporting excellence, looking bigotry clean in the face and coming out on top. Chand is an enduring example of the power of the human spirit and it is right we should celebrate him.
Red Ribbon is proud to be associated with his legacy.