New Delhi: Insisting that Dhyan Chand is to hockey what Pele is to football, a host of former Olympians have demanded Bharat Ratna for the legendary centre-forward.

A day before his birthday, celebrated as the National Sports Day, former players like Balbir Singh said the best way to honour the hockey wizard's memory was to confer the country's highest civillian honour.

Dhyan Chand, who won three Olympic golds in 1928 (Amsterdam), 1932 (Los Angeles) and 1936 (Berlin), was honoured with Padma Bhushan -- India's third highest civilian award in 1956.

But according to former Olympians, Dhyan Chand should have got a bigger honour as his contribution to hockey is at par with what Pele and Diego Maradona did for football.

"No India sportsman has contributed as much as Dhyan Chand did to hockey. It is very sad that today we have almost forgotten the contribution of the player, who is no less than Maradona, Pele or Don Bradman," Balbir Singh, who has seen Dhyan Chand in action, said.

Former India custodian, Mir Ranjan Negi rued the decline of Indian hockey over the years and felt the only way to honour Dhyan Chand is to revive the game in the country, which once used to dominate international circuit.

"We should take the initiative to make coming generations aware of Dhyan Chand's contribution to the country's hockey," said Negi, who was India's custodian in the fateful 1982 Asian Games final that the hosts lost to Pakistan 1-7.

"I think, it is also important that those who are in power today, should take the responsibility to revive field hockey in the country. That will be the best honour to Dhyan Chand," Negi said.

Dhyan Chand's son and Olympian Ashok Kumar still reminds the ignorance which his father faced during the last few years of his life.

"During the last few years of his life, our family was dependent on his meager pension of Rs 400. There was no other income but that did not hamper his happiness. My father continued to believe that duty of a player is to play on the field and not run after awards," the two-time Olympian said.

"He even received an invitation from Hitler to go there and settle, but he turned down the offer. This was nothing but pure patriotism," he added.

"Dhyan Chand should have received Bharat Ratna many years ago. He was an excellent team-man and its a matter of pride that I have worked with the same Punjab Regiment in Army where he used to work once," said Balbir Singh.

(Agencies)