Only a total clean-up of Indian hockey’s shambolic administration can pull the national game out of the pits

I’m writing this piece not as an expert on Indian hockey, but as an avid fan and follower of our National Game. Yes, hockey is our national game, no matter what the cynics say. At the Olympics, I followed India in other disciplines too, some with pride, others along the expected lines of frustration. But really, hockey made my heart bleed. Finishing at rock bottom was a record of sorts.

Of course, I’m familiar with the winning and losing character of sport. That is what makes following the fortunes of one’s country in an event like the Olympics that much more intense and exciting. Much was expected from our archers and some of the boxing hopefuls. But those disappointments didn’t hurt as much as the hockey debacle. Now, where do we start collecting the debris of Indian hockey?

I’m inclined to agree with a very angry Michael Nobbs that this is not the moment to pull down Hockey India. But then, how does one get to the bottom of the ills affecting our national game? Mr. Nobbs may not be very familiar with the deep-rooted politics of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Hockey India or the Indian Olympic Association — he is here on a professional assignment with no guarantee for medals.

My firm belief is that it is the team that makes a coach, not the other way round. All successful coaches have had great teams to handle. John Buchanan and Gary Kirsten readily come to mind. Indian hockey experts swear the best coach in London Olympics was Ric Charlesworth, by many a mile. But all that the Aussies could manage was a bronze, albeit a well earned one.

The excuses at London

I watched just about all the hockey from London. It was a delight to observe the commitment level of teams like Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Great Britain. Mr. Nobbs admitted his wards were kindergarten stuff in comparison. The Indian defence was non-existent and so were interceptions and deflections. I’ve heard some hockey buffs saying “our boys play far too much of individual game.” If that be the case, surely some form of individual brilliance might have been on display. Sadly, there was no such evidence.

Another view is that our boys peaked too early. Where and when and how? Let us just face it — Indian hockey is in a very confused state of mind and body. The players do not know which parent to listen to — IHF or Hockey India, two rogue bodies whose only interest is self-promotion, not the game of hockey. It is a matter of great shame that IHF and Hockey India are blatantly and most grotesquely working at cross purposes. And neither the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) nor the Sports Ministry has any control over these two warring factions.

Hockey India was the brain child of Suresh Kalmadi when he was still on cloud nine of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010. Then the president of IOA, Mr. Kalmadi could do no wrong, or perhaps he was far too omnipotent to have any opposition. Meek Indian character allowed every sinister move to strangle Indian hockey. The players had no voice, they have never had any — more simply put hockey players have always been pawns in the hands of grossly power hungry hockey officials.

There is a huge part of me which is willing to side with the players; but never with the officials. Narinder Kumar Batra, the Secretary General of Hockey India, made a public apology for the disastrous Indian show from London. One would have thought that was the ideal time for him to not just say “Sorry,” but own up the mess and step down. Heads will roll, but only the players’. Never is any official made accountable.

I’m told a good number of Hockey India officials were in London enjoying themselves while the team was tottering at the bottom of the rankings. Is there a case here for an RTI activist to ask the right questions and give the lay man an idea of the expenses incurred by Hockey India cronies in London?! From where it is now, Indian hockey cannot go down any further. Or perhaps it can — into the grave. But it could look up — provided both the IHF and Hockey India are banished from the scene. Am I being too harsh?! I don’t think so. Tough measures need tough decisions. No one in the IHF or Hockey India would be inclined to take those. We are all too familiar with uproars after every hockey disaster, and then after a while the national anger dies down and the official caravan moves on. This is not the time for an arthroscopy of Indian hockey; there is dire need for a major operation. We have had far too many ad hoc compromises in the running of this game in India. It is time for the Sports Ministry to rope in some renowned ex-Olympians to discover how to uphold the image of Indian hockey and not that of self-promoting officials.

Rediscovering the nurseries

The need of the hour is to rediscover the potential of the nurseries in Bhopal, Lucknow, Sansarpur, Coorg and Mumbai and elsewhere in the country. We need to do this on a war footing without outsourcing our national game to foreigners. It hurts to know the CEO of Hockey India is a lady from Oz — what price National pride?

I have noticed in recent times Indian hockey has expressed the strong urge to follow the ever eager financial model of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). To be honest I find nothing wrong with that strategy, except the governance of cricket and hockey are vastly different. Cricket requires no financial help from the Sports Ministry, while hockey cannot move without generous help from the government.

Money makes the mare go. But that will happen only if there is transparent spending on the actual game. It was recently reported that Hockey India had decided to induct a couple of cricket officials and a TV channel owner into the hockey administrative framework for promotional purposes. I find it all very depressing and revolting — I wonder how long our past, present and future hockey players will continue to tolerate such sub-standard administration of hockey in our country?!

On a brighter note we have to be grateful to the outstanding commitment of players such as Saina Nehwal, Vijay Kumar, Gagan Narang, Yogeshwar Dutt, Sushil Kumar and the Manipuri boxer Mary Kom. We have reasons to be cheerful as the number of medals have doubled since Beijing. But gold remained elusive. Ajay Maken, our Sports Minister is optimistic about 2020.”We can get 25 medals,” he says. Mr. Maken, your self-assessment report is good. It needs to be excellent. Come on, Mr. Maken. Let’s give some priority to sports at the grass-roots level. You are trying your darned best to bring about transformation in various federations. More power to you to clean-sweep IHF and Hockey India in one go.

(Bishan Singh Bedi is a former India cricket captain and ardent fan of hockey.)

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