Friday, July 1st, 2022 13:06:11

Bluff And Bluster Won’t Help Hockey

Updated: December 3, 2011 5:08 pm

Last year after the phenomenal (commercial) success of the World Cup in Delhi, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) changed the rules for the hosting of the Champions Trophy and announced that it would be held in India in December 2011. As per the rules governing the Champions Trophy only top six teams of the world are eligible to participate in it and India was ranked 9th and had also failed in the Champions Challenge Trophy, whose winner qualifies for the main tournament. Having tasted blood (money) in the World Cup, the FIH was not bothered about the niceties of the rules and regulations and it allotted the tournament because it realized that the event would be a huge commercial success.

Not only that, FIH also announced that Delhi would be the venue of world club champion’s tournament also. “We want that India should regain its glory and emerge as a hockey power once again. That will be good for the game overall,” was the explanation given by the international body for its benevolence towards India. However, in the middle of this year, FIH attitude suddenly changed and from the unexplained bonhomie, which it displayed previous year, it became aggressive and hostile. Without rhyme or reason, the FIH started threatening India that it would withdraw the Champions Trophy and then on September 6, it suddenly announced that the Champions Trophy would not be held in Delhi and threatened that it might also not hold the Olympic Qualifier here in February, 2012.

According to the FIH, the decision to withdraw the tournament was taken due to ongoing problems with the governance of hockey in India. “It is a fundamental and non-negotiable requirement of the Olympic Charter and the FIH Statutes that there should be only one governing body for any sport in any country with exclusive authority and responsibility to govern, organise national competitions and to enter national teams in international competitions,” said FIH President Leandro Negre. He also said that the FIH would continue to monitor the governance structure in India and hoped that a resolution could be found before it began to affect future events set to be held in the country.

Later that month, the FIH through a letter issued another veiled threat to block India’s participation in the 2012 London Olympics in case the government does not grant Hockey India the status of a National Sports Federation and if all lawsuits, including the one filed by the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) against it, are not terminated. The tone and tenor of the letter was nothing but a blatant threat of blackmail. It was surprising that FIH had the gumption to write such a letter to India, world’s largest democracy.

The letter, signed by Negre, mentioned seven issues, including the payment India owe to the FIH in regard to the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. It virtually ordered the government to “advise Hockey India and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) not to proceed with the implementation of the broad arrangement reached on July 25” with regard to governance of the game in the country.

It “directed’ government to recognise Hockey India under its guidelines as the National Sports Federation with complete and exclusive authority to govern men’s and women’s hockey in India, in respect of both national competitions and Indian participation in international competitions. The letter also directed the Indian government not to fund or support any hockey event, which is not sanctioned by FIH and/or Hockey India and demanded that government should clear all the dues by writing to the bank concerned. Can Negre and company dare to write such a letter to China, Saudi Arabia or Cuba?

In the mean time, Negre visited India and met IOA chief Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Sports Minister Ajay Maken and despite their strong pleas refused to change the arbitrary decision of shifting the Champions Trophy to Auckland, New Zealand. Prof Malhotra had cautioned FIH chief against shifting the Champions Trophy, because “no other country has so much sponsorship and viewership for hockey as compared to India. Shifting the trophy will do incalculable harm to the game”. Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) which was specifically targeted by the FIH was more scathing in its criticism of the world body and its Secretary General Ashok Mathur called FIH diktat absolutely blackmailing.

However out of the blue, the FIH summoned HI Secretary General Narender Batra to its headquarters at Lausanne to explain India’s case before its Executive Board and on November 12, FIH announced that Olympic qualifier and other major hockey tournaments would be held in India, as scheduled. It also declared its recognition of Hockey India as the national federation for the sport. What has surprised the observers is that nothing has changed since the world body shifted the Champions Trophy. So why did FIH, which had threatened India with serious consequences, make such a dramatic U-turn?

One main reason being poor or dismal response Champions Trophy has evoked in Auckland. Though the tournament is three weeks away, there is hardly any major sponsor for it. Given the profile of hockey in that country it is unlikely to attract even a small crowd for the matches. Delhi was a gold mine, which FIH frittered away in its bid to lord it over Sports Ministry and the IOA. Now if qualifiers were not to be held here FIH would have been a big loser. So FIH did India no favour. It is other way round. It is pure commerce.

It seems that there are certain elements in the FIH which want to treat India as their fiefdom and looks that they have not yet learnt their lessons and want another confrontation with India about holding of lucrative World Series Hockey (WSH) League starting from December 17. FIH does not recognise WSH, a tournament being promoted by its bête noire IHF and Nimbus. Negre has said that players aligning with WSH will be suspended from international matches. The league has been in the centre of the ‘club vs country’ controversy that has divided the hockey fraternity. The entire Indian squad has signed to play in the league,

“I have very high reservations about players taking part in the WSH. We have, what you call, the sanctioned and unsanctioned events. The WSH is an event that is not sanctioned by us and hence, any player participating in it will be banned from international tournaments,” Negre told a Mumbai-based daily from Lausanne. Asked specifically about the Indian players, he said, “I am sure Hockey India will not allow them in the team. As far as we are concerned, the Indian players will not be allowed to take part in the Olympic qualifiers.”

It is learnt Hockey India has organised a preparatory camp for the qualifiers, which will be held in New Delhi in February next year. The WSH will be held around the same time. In such a scenario, the players will have to choose between attending the camp and playing in the league. Intriguingly while FIH maintains that WSH has not been sanctioned by it, a senior member of the international body has joined the franchise-based league. Peter Von Reth, a member of FIH’s rules board, also happens to have a similar role with WSH. Reth said that he saw nothing wrong in the whole deal. “There is not much to say about that,” he added. So is that threat only for the players and that too Indians? There are some observers who are of the view that FIH was making such noises at the behest of Hockey India.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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