The Nehru Hockey Tournament is a prestigious hockey tournament and enjoys a rich legacy that is probably unmatched by any other domestic hockey competition. Organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament Society (JNHTS), this prestigious tournament has made a gargantuan contribution towards providing a steady supply line of players, who have served the national team with distinction in big-ticket international events such as the Olympics, World Cup, Champions Trophy (now defunct), Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. The JNHTS was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Inder Mohan Kapur in fond memory of India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru after his death in May 1964.
The objective of JNHTS was to conduct a top-flight domestic hockey tournament in New Delhi, wherein the best teams from India would take part. The inaugural edition was held in December 1964 where 24 teams participated – Northern Railway won the inaugural edition getting the better of South Eastern Railway 2-0 in the final. Barring the inaugural edition that was held in the month of December in 1964, the Nehru Hockey Tournament subsequently was always held in the month of November to coincide with Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday (November 14). The tournament was initially played on the grass turf at the Shivaji Stadium and decades later it was played on astroturf.
As years passed by the Nehru Hockey Tournament grew in stature. The likes of Prithipal Singh, Surjit Singh, Mukhbain Singh, Ajit Pal Singh, Harbinder Singh, Balbir Singh, VJ Peter, Ashok Kumar, Inam-ur-Rehman, Harcharan Singh, Zafar Iqbal, Pargat Singh, Dhanraj Pillay among a host of other illustrious names have regaled fans at the Nehru Hockey Tournament with their hockey brilliance. How can one forget Inam-ur-Rehman’s two eye-catching goals in 1971 final for Indian Airlines against Great Britain XI? Interestingly, the hockey talent in Ajitpal Singh was discovered at the Nehru Hockey Tournament when he represented Combined Universities in the mid-sixties.
Such was the prominence of the tournament that its finals were graced by Presidents, Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Union Cabinet Ministers. The final of the inaugural edition in 1964 was presided over by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Subsequently, the finals of the Nehru Hockey Tournament were graced by exalted personalities such as Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Zakir Hussain, V V Giri, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, and Giani Zail Singh.
JNHTS ensured the Nehru Hockey Tournament went beyond being a senior men’s tournament – it started conducting various age-group tourneys for both boys and girls to nurture young hockey talents. With 56 editions under its belt, the tournament has become the most-look-forward-to tourney in the country. For the stats-minded, Indian Airlines have won the Nehru Hockey Tournament for a record 9 times, while BSF Jallandhar and Punjab Police have won it on 7 occasions.
“The Nehru Hockey Tournament’s contribution to Indian hockey over last 5-6 decades has been massive. Just imagine the number of players, who have played in the tournament and went on to serve the country with distinction. Our various age-group tourneys have been a big boost to domestic hockey, in terms of churning out new talents,” says Kukoo Walia, former international umpire and secretary-general of Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament Society.