Balbir Singh Dosanjh (born 10 October 1924) is a former hockey player from India. 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. He has been called the greatest hockey player ever, a modern-day Dhyan Chand, a legend of the sport and is widely regarded as the sport’s greatest ever centre-forward. His Olympic record for most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic men’s hockey final 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. He is often called Balbir Singh Senior to distinguish him from other Indian hockey players named Balbir Singh.
Singh was the Manager and Chief Coach of the Indian team for the 1975 Men’s Hockey World Cup, which India won, and the 1971 Men’s Hockey World Cup, where India earned a bronze medal. During the London Olympics in 2012, Singh was honoured in the Olympic Museum exhibition, “The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games held at the Royal Opera House. The exhibition told the story of the Olympic Games from its creation in 776BC through to the London 2012 Olympic Games. He was one of the 16 iconic Olympians chosen whose example “tells of human strength and endeavour, of passion, determination, hard work and achievement and demonstrates the values of the Olympic Movement”.
Singh saw a newsreel on India’s 1936 Olympic hockey triumph. He was spotted as a promising hockey player by Harbail Singh, who was the then coach of Khalsa College hockey team. It was Harbail who repeatedly insisted that Balbir transfer from Sikh National College, Lahore to Khalsa College, Amritsar. Finally, Balbir got the permission from his family to take the transfer to Khalsa College in 1942 and began intensive training and practice sessions under Harbail’s guidance. Later, Harbail coached the successful Indian national hockey team at the Helsinki and Melbourne Olympics.
Khalsa College had four hockey pitches. In 1942-43 Singh was selected to represent Punjab University, which, at that time, covered colleges from a large region consisting of undivided Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Sindh and Rajasthan. The Punjab University team won All India Inter-University titles with Singh as Captain three years in a row: 1943, 1944 and 1945. Singh was a member of the last team of undivided Punjab that won the title in 1947 National Championships under the captaincy of Colonel AIS Dara. Singh played in centre forward position in this team. After this, disturbances due to the partition of India began and Singh moved his family to Ludhiana, where he was posted in Punjab Police. He captained the Punjab Police team during 1941-1961.
London Olympics (1948)
Singh’s first appearance at the 1948 Summer Olympics was in the second match, against Argentina. In this match he scored six goals, including a hat trick. India won 9-1. He also played in the final match against Britain, which was the first encounter between India and Britain at the Olympics. Singh scored the first two goals and India won by 4-0.
Helsinki Olympics (1952)
Singh was vice-captain of 1952 Olympic team, with K. D. Singh as the Captain. Balbir was India’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony. He scored a hat trick against Britain in semi-final, which India won 3-1. He scored five goals in India’s 6-1 win against the Netherlands setting a new Olympic record for most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic final in men’s field hockey. The previous holder of this record was England’s Reggie Pridmore with his four goals in England’s 8-1 victory over Ireland in the 1908 Olympic final. Singh scored nine of the India’s total 13 goals at the Helsinki Olympics, 69.23% of the team’s goals.
Melbourne Olympics (1956)
Singh, captain of the 1956 Olympic team, scored five goals in the opening match against Afghanistan, but was then injured. Randhir Singh Gentle captained the rest of the group matches. Singh had to skip the group matches, but played in the semi-final and the final. India won the final match against Pakistan with a result of 1-0.
In 1957 Singh became the first recipient of the Padma Shri award in the sports category. He was also a member of the Indian hockey team that won the silver medal at the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games. He coached the 1971 Indian hockey team for World Cup hockey, where India earned the bronze medal. In 1975 he was the manager of the victorious Indian World Cup hockey team. He has written two books: his autobiography The Golden Hat Trick (1977) and The Golden Yardstick: In Quest of Hockey Excellence (2008).
Awards and achievements
Singh was the first sports personality to be honoured with the Padma Shri award, in 1957. He and Gurdev Singh were featured on a stamp issued in 1958 by Dominican Republic to commemorate the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He lit the Sacred Flame at the Asian Games 1982 held at New Delhi. In the year 2006 he was named the Best Sikh Hockey Player. Describing himself as a secular nationalist, he stated that he was not convinced about the idea of having a religion-based list of players, but accepted the award since he believed it might be good for the promotion of Indian hockey. Also, in a national poll conducted by the Patriot newspaper in the year 1982 he was adjudged to be the Indian Sportsperson of the Century. In 2015, he was conferred with the Major Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement Award of Hockey India.
Although the record for most goals by an individual in an Olympic final belongs to Singh there have been many erroneous media reports over the years claiming that Dhyan Chand scored six goals in India’s 8-1 victory over Germany in the 1936 Olympic final. In his autobiography titled “Goal!”, however, published in 1952 by Sport & Pastime, Chennai, Chand wrote:
When Germany was four goals down, a ball hit Allen’s pad and rebounded. The Germans took full advantage of this and made a rush, netting the ball before we could stop it. That was the only goal Germany would score in the match against our eight, and incidentally the only goal scored against India in the entire Olympic tournament. India’s goal-getters were Roop Singh, Tapsell and Jaffar with one each, Dara two and myself three.
Additionally, the International Hockey Federation records also attribute only three of the eight goals to Chand in the Berlin Olympic final.
His paternal grandparents are Dosanjh from the Punjabi village of Pawadra and maternal grandparents are Dhanoa from the village Haripur Khalsa. Both are in Tehsil Phillaur in District Jalandhar in Punjab. Balbir’s father Dalip Singh Dosanjh was a freedom fighter. Balbir’s wife Sushil was from Model Town, Lahore. They got married in 1946. They have a daughter Sushbir and three sons Kanwalbir, Karanbir, Gurbir and are settled in Vancouver, Canada. In Walk the Talk program telecast on NDTV on 02/07/06 he revealed to Shekha Gupta that his three daughters-in-law are from China, Singapore, and Ukraine respectively.