Hockey, which is supposed to be India’s ‘national game,’ has been in inexorable decline over the past three decades. India’s sole World Cup triumph was achieved in 1975. The last Olympic gold for the seven-time champion came 28 years ago. At the last Asian Games, India placed a miserable fifth. The humiliation was complete in Santiago last month when the Indian team failed to qualify for the Olympic Games — for the first time in 80 years. But what was the response of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF)? The world around it had changed profoundly but it behaved very much in the manner of the two shatranj-obsessed noblemen in Satyajit Ray’s classic Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess players): “We both need darkness to hide our faces.” The conspiracy theory fielded by Joaquim Carvalho, the national coach, to cover up the latest loss worsened an already-strained relationship with the International Hockey Federation (FIH). The attempts of the FIH to revive Indian hockey through a project funded by the International Olympic Committee and the Government of India evoked an indifferent response from the IHF. Its intransigence over the appointment of the Australian, Ric Charlesworth, as technical advisor made no sense. The Olympic Charter made it difficult for the Union Sports Ministry to intervene in hockey affairs.
All that changed dramatically when a sting operation by a Hindi television news channel showed IHF secretary K. Jothikumaran accepting money allegedly for including a player in the Indian senior team. Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill moved quickly to demand the resignations of Mr. Jothikumaran as well as K.P.S. Gill and parliamentarians joined a chorus of outrage. The FIH’s threat to take the 2010 World Cup away from Delhi and its message that the Indian Olympic Association needed to take over the affairs of hockey forced the hand of the National Olympic Committee. Its decision to suspend the IHF and put in its place an ad hoc body to run the game was unavoidable. Transparency and accountability — two qualities Mani Shankar Aiyar as Union Sports Minister wanted the federations to bring in — have been in short supply in Indian sports bodies. The IHF’s actions during the 14-year tenure of Mr. Gill were both non-transparent and quixotic. Six players, including Dhanraj Pillay and Ashish Ballal, and chief coach M.K. Kaushik, were dropped following the team’s gold-medal winning performance in the 1998 Asian Games. Replacements were brought in without the knowledge of the chief coach. More than a dozen national coaches were changed. Selection committees were reconstituted in secrecy. For a federation that has shown scant regard for democratic norms, the suspension has come not a day too soon.