Indian Hockey Present Uncertain, Future Bleak

Perhaps the most-travelled sporting squad in the world with minimum of results an without doubt is Indian hockey team. Barring Antarctica, South or North Pole, the team has left its footprint in every continent of the planet in last two years.

After Indian Olympic Association (IOA) took over the affairs of games from Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) in late 2008, and then set up Hockey India (HI) to run the sport the travel agency dealing with the team has never had it so good. In the process hockey team set few records and precedents which are unlikely to be matched by any other team(s).

Taking advantage of the chaos and anarchy which prevailed after the suspension of the IHF, some enterprising officials moved in to help revive the game with a clear road (travel) map.

The revival plan was very ambitious as was evident from the very first tour of the Indian team under those officials. A four-nation tournament was to be held in Chandigarh and to prepare for that obscure journey the officials took the team to the other part of the planet—Argentina—at the cost of the tax-payers’ money. Interestingly, Indian failed to win Chandigarh event in which virtually junior teams participated.

What took the cake was the next trip, Junior World Cup was to be held in Singapore/Malaysia and lo and behold Indian team again went to Argentina for training. Indians fared miserably in the World Cup.

Undaunted by these two huge failures, the enterprising officials, having tasted the blood and with no authority to rein them, went berserk and took Indian team to every place they wanted to go. Indian team flew here and there, far and wide to prepare for the World Cup, Commonwealth and Asian Games. Players kept on changing but there was hardly any change among the officials accompanying the team.

Indian campaign ended disastrously in all these competitions. They suffered the humiliation of finishing low down the leaderboard in the World Cup and getting thrashed 0-8 by Australia in the final of the Commonwealth Games before the home crowd at Delhi.

India failed to directly qualify for London Olympics, having finished 3rd in the Asian Games, and no officials, who have been travelling with the team to earn their frequent flier points, have been questioned about team’s dismal showing.

There was (is) no end to the travelling spree of the officials who were taking advantage of the infighting between the HI and the IHF with Sports Ministry being the mute witness. And these officials are now prompting the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to directly interfere in the affairs of Indian Hockey.

It is amazing that while Sports Ministry with all the powers and resources is finding itself helpless to solve IHF-HI feud, FIH has stepped in and its chief Leandro Negre has openly said that the world body only recoganises HI.

Negre, who defeated Els Van Breda Vriesman to become FIH president in 2008, never had it so good. One is not sure whether he can even dictate the Spain Hockey Federation—he belongs to that country—the way he is doing to India.

FIH, with meager financial resources, perhaps had the most successful World Cup—both financially and commercially—held in New Delhi last year and after that the world body has been meddling in the affairs of Indian hockey.

Negre is fond of quoting the FIH constitution and threatening every body in India, who does not agree with him of dire consequences. But can he play or will he be allowed to play such a proactive role in any other country’s sports federation? Hockey India, now depends on FIH but question is being asked: can a national sports federation be run by international body? With each passing day Negre is getting more and more involved in the affairs of Indian hockey which is neither good for the country or the world body. He first refused to allow the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) to run the World Series hockey (WSH) threatening the countries or the players with a severe action if they took part in it. Now he has issued another dictate.

In a letter to IHF secretary Ashok Mathur he said that Hockey India (HI) was the sole governing body for men’s and women’s hockey in India, and IHF had no right to claim that it was an affiliated unit of the FIH.

According to Negre, any interference with the FIH’s right to decide whom to recognise would constitute a serious breach of the Olympic Charter that would imperil that nation’s participation, not only in FIH competitions, but also in the Olympic Games.

He rejected the IHF’s contention that the FIH decision to de-recognise the Indian Hockey Confederation (a body formed to function as a united men and women’s hockey federation) was procedurally flawed.

He dismissed the IHF suggestion that the decision by the Indian courts and/or the Union Government required the FIH to de-recognise Hockey India and recognise the IHF in its place.

Regarding the Delhi High Court decision last year setting aside the disaffiliation and de-recognition of the IHF by the IOA and the Government, He said: “But in any event, our understanding is that the Delhi High Court did not purport to interfere in any way with the FIH’s right to decide whom to recognise and admit into the membership of the FIH. You cannot and do not suggest otherwise.”

He claimed that the Government guidelines and the draft National Sports (Development) Bill confirm that the “Indian Government also respects the FIH’s right to determine who should be recognised as the national governing body for hockey in India”.

Negre went on to say that the proposed Bill expressly stated that the Government would not recognise a body as the national governing body unless that body was so recognised by the international federation.

According to him despite the claim made by the IHF that it was an affiliated body of the FIH, the IHF had not been a member of the FIH since 2001. From 2000, the FIH constitution mandated that there could only be one governing body in a country for men’s and women’s hockey.

The IHC was de-recognised when the FIH found out that the IHF and the IWHF continued to govern men’s and women’s hockey in India. The FIH recognised Hockey India in June, 2009. Negre claimed that the FIH had the “absolute right” to grant that recognition.

“The FIH continues to recognise its member, Hockey India, as the sole and exclusive national governing body for the sport of men’s and women’s hockey in India. Nothing you say in your letter requires it or persuades it to change that position,” Negre stated.

“The IHF is hereby required to stop claiming (in its letterhead or otherwise) that it is affiliated to the FIH because that is not true. In the event it fails to do so, all of the FIH’s rights are reserved,” Negre wrote.

From FIH’s chief letter it is clear that he is being well briefed by some Indian officials whose interest is to keep the pot boiling and who do not want stability and end to the infighting because of their vested interests.

However Negre’s strongly worded letter has had no effect on the IHF which shot back an equally strong letter to him saying that HI was given recognition by throwing to the wind FIH’s own statutes,.

IHF secretary Ashok Mathur wrote that contrary to what has been said, “Hockey India did not come into existence until May 2009” and HI “did not and/or could not have legally provided an IOA (Indian Olympic Association) endorsement or attestation in November 2008 (as required by the FIH statutes)” as HI was not in existence three years ago.

IHF wanted to know “how the FIH came to direct the IOA to establish Hockey India (as it appears it was so directed by a letter from FIH to IOA dated July 24, 2008). And also what were the basis and justification for FIH’s letter to IOA in November, 2008 offering its support for IOA’s establishment of Hockey India and for stating that “simultaneously the IHC (Indian Hockey Confederation) will cease to be a member of the FIH and FIH will formally recognise Hockey India”.

IHF claims that IHC, an integrated body of men’s and women’s all-India hockey bodies which has now become IHF again, was the original member of FIH which was never stripped off its recognition but only substituted by HI.

IHF has asked the world body to show documents to support HI’s application to become a member of the FIH, copy of HI’s “attestation, endorsement and confirmation by the IOA” and copy of HI’s representation that it “has the exclusive right to govern hockey in its own country”, as required by the FIH’s statutes.

“Further, Article 6.7 of the FIH statutes requires that, before a membership is transferred, the standing member must be notified in writing and given the opportunity to make an appeal. No notice was issued by FIH to IHC and its constituent members.” It is unlikely the FIH will give any satisfying reply to IHF, because it has already made up its mind.

As two sides (HI, IHF) battled it out while FIH played arbitrator, it was the Supreme Court which had to step in to sort out the problem so that players and the game do not suffer.

A bench of justices J M Panchal and H L Ghokhale also asked the Center to clarify its stand and resolve the ongoing row between HI and Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) within three weeks.

The court said its earlier order passed on August 27 last year with regard to selection and participation of team would remain operational. In its order, the bench had allowed HI to select hockey teams for the Asian and Commonwealth Games and had given three more weeks to the Center to resolve the dispute with regard to recognition.

However, the Center, which had assured the apex court that it would resolve within a week the tussle between IHF and HI for controlling Indian hockey, failed to come out with any proposal and sought further three weeks’ time.

The court had in an interim order rejected the government’s claim and allowed Hockey India (HI) and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to send a women’s team to participate in the World Cup in Argentina.

The Sports Ministry had earlier contended that HI was a private body, which could not be authorized to select the team representing India.

With the officials more interested in safeguarding their own turf’s, no body seemed to be bothered about the game or team which has been without a coach after Jose Brasa’s contract was not extended.

Now just ahead of the Azlan Shah tournament Harendra Singh has been confirmed as the chief coach of the national men’s hockey team. “We have appointed him till the 2012 Olympics. We believe that continuity is critical if the team has to do well,” said HI secretary general Narendra Batra.

Batra’s statement shows that Sports Ministry is clearly not with HI, otherwise a foreign coach would have been appointed. HI has no money for foreign coach and Government is not willing to pay.

Meanwhile Indian captain Rajpal Singh has expressed the hope that his team will be able to qualify for the London Olympics. “Win or loss in Azlan Shah Cup tournament does not matter much to us as we see it as the beginning of our preparation for the tough Olympic qualifiers, which will start next year,” Rajpal said. India and South Korea were the joint winners of Azlan Shah Cup last year.

About the preparatory camp being held after three months, Rajpal said the long gap will not affect the form and fitness of the players. “All the international teams were on break during this period so I don’t think it will affect us. Also almost all the Indian players were busy playing domestic tournaments and National Games. We were not completely away from the game. We have to play a lot of international hockey ahead so the focus will be on fitness. We will work hard on this aspect.”

The captain was happy with the appointment of Harendra Singh as coach saying, “Harendra is there with the team for almost two years now and shares very good rapport with the team. He is aware of each and everyone’s caliber hence we don’t have any problem with him.”

Players will keep on giving there best, irrespective of the results, it is the officials who need to be made accountable. But given the past history it looks unlikely and with IHF-HI fighting showing no sign of ending and FIH enjoying its role as the arbitrator of Indian hockey the future of the game in the country is looking very bleak.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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