Indian hockey has reached its nadir. The boycott of the training camp by players demanding their “due” has paralysed the game’s administration, with 45 days left for the World Cup in Delhi. Monetary remuneration is a complex issue. Hockey might have brought India eight Olympic gold medals but for decades it was an amateur sport. Even today, hockey fails to appeal to big sponsors. What hurts players most is that even when good sponsorship deals are struck, their rewards are negligible and payments erratic. Hockey India, a mechanism created by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) that is yet to be formalised in a democratic election, has remained apathetic to players’ concerns. When the International Hockey Federation (FIH) accorded recognition, it was on the understanding that the national body would be formed by November 2009. The deadline was extended in view of the difficulties encountered in merging associations in each State. But the insistence of Hockey India’s affiliation panel on a mandatory endorsement of the State Olympic Associations led to controversies. The threat of legal action by a few delayed the constitution of the voters’ list. The FIH and the Sports Ministry saw the necessity of nominating observers for holding fair and free elections. The FIH named a senior vice-president, Antonio von Ondorza, and Union Sports Minister and former Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill tasked the former legal advisor to the Election Commission, S.K. Mendiratta, with the responsibility of ensuring that democratic norms were observed. The delay in granting affiliation to Punjab triggered a heated debate. This obliged the Ministry to issue fresh guidelines, one of which stipulates that the Returning Officer should be an independent nominee, preferably a retired High Court or district judge.
The takeover of hockey administration after India failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympiad is yet to produce tangible benefits. The quality of governance by the IOA-led Ad Hoc Committee and then by Hockey India has been appalling. The dismal record of 2009 speaks to this. India has tumbled to the 12th place in world rankings, the lowest ever, and missed for the first time a podium finish at the Asia Cup. Indian hockey needs to be liberated from unelected power brokers. A command structure that is competent, democratic, and transparent in its functioning and gives primacy to the raising of standards and the welfare of players must be formed in the elections scheduled for February 7. The FIH and the Sports Ministry hold the key to this.