By – Gurjot Singh
If there’s a name in Indian Hockey which is the most popular among the Hockey players in India and especially in Punjab that would be Balbir. There was a time when at a single match 4 players with name Balbir Singh played in Indian Hockey team. The number of Balbirs in State and District level Hockey is beyond counting. A total 4 Balbirs played in Oympics and all of them won medals but Balbir Singh Sr. was the only one who, with his devotion and true sportsman spirit, was destined to earn the title of ‘Living legend of Hockey’.
Balbir Singh Sr. was the sole Indian among 16 legends, selected by the International Olympic Committee across modern Olympic history. His world record for most goals scored by an individual in men’s hockey final of the Olympics still remains unbeaten. Singh set this record when he scored five goals in India’s 6–1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal game of the 1952 Olympic Games.
Born on 31 December 1923 in village Haripur Khalsa, tehsil Phillaur, Near Ludhiana, he lived a life which embodied the peak of game ethics, ideal friendship and respect for his fellow teammates. He was first selected in Indian Hockey team in 1947 for Sri Lanka’s tour. He is a three-time Olympic gold champion having played a key role in India’s wins in London (1948), Helsinki (1952) (as Vice Captain), and Melbourne (1956) (as Captain) Olympics. Singh is widely regarded as Hockey’s greatest ever centre-forward.
He was awarded ”Padam Shri” (fourth highest civilian award) in 1957 by the Government of India. Many eminent personalities and Government of Punjab campaigned and proposed that ”Bharat Ratna Award” (Highest Civilian Honor) should be presented to Balbir Singh as he is the sportsman with highest achievements in the country, but unfortunately this didn’t materialise while he was living, though he never wished for awards. ”Hockey” was his only love and honor which he held tight in his arms throughout his journey.
It is still hard to believe that he is not with us anymore. He had been fighting a pulmonary illness from the last two years. Due to critical health circumstances, he had been admitted at Fortis Hospital, Mohali on 8th of May and was in semi comatose since 18th May. During the treatment he developed blood clot in his brain. He breathed his last at 6.30am on 25th May.
He was hugely admired by Sikh community for manifold virtues of his personality, though religion was personal matter to him, he remained Sabat-Surat all his life.
Balbir Singh’s autobiography “Golden Hatrick : as told to Samuel Bannerjee” was published in 1977. Punjab’s well-known sports Journalist Sarwan Singh has also authored his biography under the very appropriate title “Golden Goal”.
Some phrased him as “Forgotten legend”. It’s common among Indians to celebrate, perhaps ‘over-celebrate’, Cricket more than other games thus many eminent players like Balbir Singh go unrewarded. He deserved more accolades to be added to his name which could do justice with his contribution towards the game and motivate the upcoming generation of athletes.