World Series Hockey India’s Bane Or Boon?
Indian hockey is in shambles. Its failure to directly qualify for the 2012 London Olympics has created more problems for this national game and on top of it the factional feud amongst the administrators of this sport has further worsened the matter.
On the other hand, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) despite its tall claims is one of the least affluent sports federations in the World. Despite making several efforts to popularise the game it has not been able to get any big sponsor(s) which is very essential to run the sports in the present commerce driven sports market.
The FIH desperately needs money and it has realised that India is a big market. Though Cricket hogs the limelight and big share of the sponsors’ money, there is still enough left for Hockey. The International hockey found this much to its delight, when it held the World Cup in Delhi last year. It never had it so good financially and despite India finishing poor ninth, it (FIH) attracted record sponsorship.
Buoyed up by this success, the FIH promptly announced that it was planning to conduct a World Champion’s club tournament in India. Though this tournament has not yet taken off and will take more time to be properly conceptualised, the International body having tasted blood (money) was not willing to let go the opportunity so it went ahead and allotted the prestigious Champions Trophy to India.
Interestingly India had not qualified for the Champions Trophy because as per the FIH rules governing this tournament, only top five teams (as per the World ranking) and one qualifier—winner of the Champions Challenge trophy—can take part in this tournament. India is not among the top five teams nor it won the Champions Challenge tournament but still because of the lucrative market and huge sponsorship, the FIH bended the rules and in the process made it eight Nation tournament (only for India edition) including Pakistan and South Korea. Other two crowd pulling teams. Not only that, India will also be hosting one of the Olympic Qualifier early next year. This also proves how desperate is the FIH to see India in the 2012 London Games.
FIH is twisting its rules and regulations to see India back among the top teams of the World and also earn money, what is preventing the officials who are responsible to run the game in the country to make it money spinner?
The match between India and Pakistan in the World Cup and again in the Commonwealth Games had more television viewership then even the Cricket match involving India and this fact did not go unnoticed to the FIH. While the International body wasted no time and moved quickly to make the “killing” the feuding factions here seemed to be keener in killing the game then promoting it.
However International body is seen as partisan because it has recognised the HI. This has no got down well with the Sports Ministry which feels that FIH is interfering in the internal matters of a sovereign country’s sports federation.
FIH is well aware of the fact that it can not hold any tournament without the permission and support of the government and also the sponsors will be shy of financing any event which will not have the tacit approval of the Sports Ministry.
Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) headed by RK Shetty claims to be the legal body and it has entered into an agreement with Nimbus Sports to set up “World Series Hockey” on the pattern of iconic Indian premier league (IPL) run by the Board of Control for Cricket India (BCCI).
And if this ten-team league takes off—tentatively scheduled to be held in November/December this year—will make each participating players richer by Rs 40 to 50 lakh. As per the plan, the ten-week long tournament will have One Million Dollar as total prize money. The annual expenditure on the players is expected to be Rs 120 crore and Nimbus will also give Rs 30 crore to IHF. 120 players—60 Indian and 60 foreigners—will benefit from this league to start with.
However as the things stand the league is not likely to have a smooth sailing with HI threatening the players of a strict disciplinary action, if they take part in the League. HI’s contention is that since it is running the affairs of the game in the country only they have the right to decide about the league. It also insisted that since it has been recognised by the FIH any player playing in the proposed IHF-supported league will be under scanner by the international body.
According to HI secretary general Narender Batra players involved in the league will not be considered for the national camps or the tournaments conducted by his federation, if they fail to take part in them.
This piquant situation has put the FIH in a spot. It will have to take a clear-cut stand. In case, it sides with HI it is bound to lose sizeable support (of players) and sponsors which it wants desperately. On the other hand, if it supports the league it will mean recoganising the IHF. At present it looks that FIH may adopt a policy of wait and see rather then taking any strong step.
On paper the proposed league format looks very attractive as it is based on the lines of USA based NBA, NHL and NFL—the most lucrative Basketball, Ice Hockey and American Football leagues. Former India captain Pargat Singh dismissed the threat of action being taken against the players. “We already have a scarcity of good players, there is not a much of bench strength and on top of it, if we start taking action against players just because they play in a league we will left with nothing.”
Pargat, who is a candidate for HI president, said: “I am very much in the fray for the top post,” thus implying that in case he gets elected the players will have nothing to fear about being part of the lucrative league.
The former full back did not want to get involve in the HI-IHF spat saying: “I will always support the players. Hockey players need money and sponsorship. I am also interested in spreading the game all over the country.”
Pargat was of the view that hockey needs to be taken to grass roots is only possible, if we have money and once youngsters are assured of secure future (like the cricketers) they will come back to the Game. “There is lot of emotional involvement with hockey. Millions of fans were upset when India failed to win the Asian Games or qualify for the Olympics. There was genuine outpouring of grief which is not for other games,” he said and added: “It is time we stop fighting and do something positive about the game.” Undeterred by HI’s threat, most of the senior players have made up their mind to take part in the proposed league. According to one player, “How long we are going to play on empty stomach or keep begging for small amount of money from officials. We felt humiliated when we were virtually made to bag for measly amount before the World Cup.”
“There was much drama before cheques were given to us, the officials were on television behaving as they were doing favour to us. We were asking for our due and they (Officials) were behaving as they were doing favour to us,” he said.
“If this league takes off, it will be the best thing to happen (for players and the game) we are not bothered who is running it, so long it is held, it will only help the Game,” he added further.
Most players it seems are sick and tired of the games being played by the feuding officials and have chalked up their own path by signing for the league.
Prominent among them are star defender Sardar Singh, the only Indian player to have been included in the World XI selected by the FIH, Captain Rajpal Singh, drag flicker Sandeep Singh, Shivendra Singh, Arjun Halappa, Gurbaj Singh, Adrian D’Souza, Bharat Chetri, VS Vinaya, Bharat Chikara, Prabodh Tirkey and Tushar Khandekar.
It is clear that HI will have tough time in dealing with these players. “HI is not cash rich like BCCI. The Indian cricket board finished the Kapil Dev run league simply with its enormous financial clout. HI is finding it hard to run its own affairs, how it will be able to compete with IHF run league,” was the question raised by the players.
Players also know that no Indian team can be complete without them. The highest goal getter in the Asian Games in China, Sandeep Singh was confident of playing for the country and seemed undeterred by the HI’s threat of action. “We have not received any instruction from Hockey India not to play in this league,” was Sandeep’s reaction about taking part in the league and he his punch line said it all “Dum honge to khelega India ke liye” (If we are capable we will play for India).
Others who have signed up are: VR Raghunath, Diwakar Ram, Ravipal Singh, Sarvanjit Singh, PR Sreejesh, Rupinderpal Singh, Vikram Kanth, Danish Mujtaba, Birendra Lakra, Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Mandeep Antil, Roshan Minz, SV Sunil, GM Hariprasad, Adam Sinclair, SK Kuttappa.
International cricketers have developed a tendency to hide their injuries suffered during a match or during a practice session to prevent omissions from the team. The omission from the team selection would mean loss of match fees for such players.
Dr Raju Vaishya, who is a senior consultant of orthopaedics and joint replacement in Indraprastha Appolo Hospital in Delhi while reading a research paper in the annual conference of Indian orthopaedic association at Jaipur recently said that he has treated a number of such cricketers in his Delhi clinic. However, he refused to divulge the names of such cricketers as medical ethics prevent him from disclosing their name. He said often such cricketers who hide their injuries are sent back home from a tour causing much embarrassment.
He said that in India there are ample treatment facilities available in the country, but Indian cricketers choose to go to England, South Africa or Australia for their treatment that they could easily avail within India. He said such cricketers spend a lot of money as treatment in India could invite media attention and the team’s selection committee would come to know of their injuries and they would be asked to go through a fitness test before being made eligible for selection. Dr Vashya said in his presentation during the conference that the tendency among cricketers is to hide their injuries and shy away from treatment for the simple fear that they would risk their selection in the national team and this would result in loss of money for them. Dr Vaishya said this tendency of hiding their injuries is directly related to the high fees which the players get and because of short sporting life the players try to avoid treatment which could be disastrous in future.
Dr Vaishya said the cricketers because of the inadequate fitness level are prone to suffer injuries. Injuries of knee and shoulders are common among cricketers. He said the common knee joint injuries are injuries of cartilage called meniscus and also anterior coruscate ligament. In meniscus, the cartilage which works as shock absorber between the thigh and leg get stressed or break causing pain. But it is easily treatable and with proper treatment and rest, a player can go back to the field to pursue their sport.
Dr Vaishya said the common shoulder injury of bowlers are recurrent dislocation of shoulder in which the rotor cuff tear away causing pain. But these injuries could be treated easily through arthroscopic surgery. He said he has treated big names in Indian football, cricket and wresting through this surgery. Tennis elbow surgery which is common in tennis players is also easily curable with or without surgery. Most of these injuries could be treated by injecting steroids. He said such surgery take half-and-hour to an hour.
Dr Vaishya said he got training and surgery tips from well-known South African orthopaedic surgeon Dr Joe de Beer of Capetown, South Africa, Dr de Beer has treated Rahul Dravid and former Indian fast bowler Javagal Srinath and put them back into peak conditions. He said the two cricketers were treated by Dr de Beer without any surgery.
Dr Vaishya said that Sachin Tendulkar underwent elbow surgery in England, but such surgery could be efficiently performed in India. “But because of the increasing tendency of cricketers to hide their injuries a lot of them opt to go for treatment abroad. They should trust the Indian doctors, who have treated players of other countries successfully in recent years,” said Dr Vaishya.
He suggested that the sportsmen should maintain a good body conditioning and fitness level through physical exercise and diet control. In cricket fielding has become very demanding and requires peak physical fitness. Dr Vaishya without naming the players said several Indian sportsmen who are internationally known have suffered irreparable injuries because of neglect of their injuries or by hiding their injuries.
Such players who neglect their injuries suffer grave problems when they attain the age of 40 to 45 and in such cases only major surgery can help them. The most common disease a sportsperson suffer after their sports career are over are joint arthritis. It is the common disease of European soccer stars of yesteryears.
By Prakash Bhandari
As per the proposed payment plan, players will be put in the salary range of Rs 5, 7 and 10 lakh by the franchise teams. “The lowest take home money for a senior player would be between Rs 25 and 30 lakh,” according to IHF Chief RK Shetty, “The proposed hockey league is the best thing for the game. I’m confident it will rejuvenate hockey, not just in India but globally also. Nimbus and many other sponsors have come forward to pump in money. Cash apart, it will be run professionally and that is what is the need of the hour.”
He also asserted that the World Hockey Series (WHS) is not a rebel league. “Why should we run a rebel league? There are plenty of leagues taking place across the world and does not see a reason why FIH should disapprove it.”
“FIH president Leonardo Negre was quoted saying the federation can’t stop anyone from organising a league. Our aim is not to cause any problem. It’s just another league with a lot more budget, which will benefit a lot of people.” Shetty also said that IHF had conducted the senior nationals in Bhopal and almost all states and units had been represented.
Former IHF president and now its advisor, KPS Gill, claimed that this was not the first time the players and teams have been threatened. “They were also warned against taking part in the the Bhopal nationals by certain interested parties. All the players who are playing for India now have come through the IHF conducted events,” he added.
What Shetty is looking at (provided leagues takes off) is Rs 30 crore for the IHF for giving the rights for 15 year. He is hoping that the cash-rich league will lure back those top players, who have moved to HI and also that his IHF will have vital stakes in running the tournament by providing umpires, technical officials, though paid by the WHS, who will turn form solid-support base for his federation.
The man behind this idea of Hockey league Harish Thawani, who heads Nimbus, a sports PR company was of the view that HI’s threat will not work this time because the tournament is for the players and it will help the Game. “I don’t know whether HI’s secretary-general Narender Batra has said it or not, but if he had said it I am willing to fight it in court. There is a thing called restraint of trade,” Thawani asserted.
He added salt to the wounds by saying: “What is Hockey India? It is just on paper. Anyway the matter is in the Supreme Court. IHF is recognised by the government. It is the body which has in its hold all hockey infrastructures.” Thawani is fully well aware of the fact that the money he is offering can not be matched by cash-starved HI as according to him each edition would cost Rs 125 crore. Matches in this event would be played on a home and away basis with teams with the best records advancing to a multi-header play-off. “We would be offering prize money of more than USD one million initially and a top Indian player can take home between Rs 40 and 50 lakh through fees, endorsements etc,” said Thawani.
Elaborating further, he said the deal with the IHF is for 15 years and we have given a guarantee that Rs 30 crore would be paid, whether the league is a success or not. The players have been signed up for three years initially,
The league would be played in 10 cities across the country from 18 venues that have been short-listed and Nimbus has lined up sponsors and franchise owners. Thawani is even ready to take on the world hockey body FIH, which has recognised only HI, saying it (FIH) cannot stop any player from Europe from playing in the newly-formed league. “As you know, FIH is based in Lausanne and is governed by European laws. These players are also represented by accredited player agents.”
The league is open for the players from Pakistan, provided they get clearance from the government authorities to do so. Nimbus will also team up with IHF to organise, manage, develop, stage, market and broadcast the league to 70 countries. There are many who feel that the league is very ambitious and difficult to sustain and on top of it, there is no cohesive federation to look after its conduct.
“Don’t compare HI or IHF with BCCI and also popularity of cricket with hockey. Earlier PHL was started with big fan fare, but it lasted only three years. Unless you have sponsors with deep pockets, who are willing to support it like those doing in IPL, hockey league will be difficult to sustain,” said Kulwant S Sagar, a former state level hockey player.
However there are others who maintained that there is money in Hockey provided the tournament is run professionally and with sincerity. “It should not be a fly by night venture,” opined Davinder Marwah, who deals in financial matters.
“Why should we start with doubts, let us give the project a chance. If it works out it will be great for players and the games, we need such ventures,” said IHF executive committee member Charanjeet Singh Reheja. He has a point. World Hockey Series deserves a chance.
By Harpal Singh Bedi