Much has been said about how the affairs of Indian hockey have been run over the past few decades that it’s almost gets tedious to delve into it. It’s an open secret how careers of umpteen players were ruined and coaches were given the boot over the past few decades as per the whims and fancies of the federation. The general perception was that if you are a ‘yes man’ you will survive or else you will be dumped.
We all know how Indian hockey touched its low during the long tenure of KPS Gill when the team had as many as fourteen coaches during a fourteen-year period – the figures are enough to sum up the slipshod manner in which the sport was run in the country.
Just when we were in the ‘process of arriving at a conclusion’ that Hockey India under the leadership of Narender Batra was making a serious effort to ring a blanket of ‘professionalism in running the sport, a series of developments over the last twelve months now makes us wonder as to are we back to old KPS Gill days, when his say was the final say and all others were mute listeners.
Despite his positives, Batra’s handling of coaches is shambolic
It may be a touch unfair to put Batra in the same league as KPS Gill simply because the Hockey India President and former secretary has done things which deserve praise.
He can be credited for pumping in money in hockey in the country with the roll-out of the Hero Hockey India League and is known to do things keeping in mind the welfare of the players – announcing cash awards for players making international debut or bagging a podium finish in international competitions has been a heartening feature of his stint in Hockey India. But it does appear that Batra cannot take criticism in his stride if his demeanor in recent months is anything to go by.
Remember the 2014 World Cup in The Hague – Batra publicly criticized the players even before India had finished their campaign (they had only wrapped up their league engagements) – the boys then thrashed France 6-2 and higher-ranked Korea 3-0 in the classification games to finish 9th, a distinct improvement from their wooden spoon finish at the 2012 London Olympics. There was no need for Batra to flay the players in the middle of the marquee event and he could have done the same after the event was over.
Batra’s handling of Terry Walsh was deeply disappointing – he levelled allegations of financial impropriety against the Australian and when the USA Hockey federation gave the latter an all-clear, Batra skirted the issue and did not even publicly acknowledge it. To put things in perspective, Batra was not just ‘comfortable’ with Walsh around and only he knows why. Maybe Walsh forging good relations with SAI and the Sports Ministry was not to his liking.
Even Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal heaped praise on Walsh’s one-year stint and wanted him to extend his contract and same was the line of thinking of SAI. If Batra thinks a ‘tainted man’ like Walsh cannot be kept in Indian hockey, then why he did not take him back after Walsh was given the ‘all-clear’ by USA Hockey. It was crystal clear that Batra just did not want him and Walsh on his part, never said anything against Batra and only took the legal route to prove his innocence. The Aussie only wanted to see a systematic improvement in Indian hockey and was not out to score brownie points nor marginalise anybody, at least not Batra who wields a huge clout anyway.
Paul van Ass vs Narinder Batra
The latest episode with Paul Van Ass telling the media that he was fired by Hockey India a week after the HWL Semifinal Round again shows Batra in poor light. The attitude of the Duchman is also not in good taste because he was hired by SAI (who pays his salary) and cannot be fired by Hockey India – HI can recommend to SAI for removal or appointment of coaches.
Talking of the India-Malaysia match in Belgium, Batra had no business to flay the players on the pitch just after the match had ended and the Dutchman was correct in telling him to buzz off because the pitch is area controlled by coaches and managers. If any tough talk Batra wanted to do, he could have done it behind closed doors and not when players are cooling off after a hard-fought game.
Let’s understand one thing: Batra has made a huge effort to uplift Indian hockey, but even if he does some soul-searching he will know he had missed the plot somewhere. With twelve months to go for the 2016 Rio Olympics, exit of two foreign coaches in a matter of six months is nothing, but a ‘disastrous recipe’ for India. Microblogging site Twitter has been replete with angry reactions from hockey fans directed at Batra as all feel that there was no need for him to go near the pitch and criticise the players just after the match in the presence of the coach.
Is Roelant Oltmans the only alternative left for India?
Foreign coaches need to be treated better as history would suggest none of the former gora coaches have left on a high note. Indian hockey team have seen five coaches since Batra took charge of Hockey India in 2010 – four of them foreigners – that is five coaches in five years. Hockey fans are crestfallen with this trivial face-off turning into an unbecoming crisis in Indian hockey.
Making Roelant Oltmans as a stop-gap coach till the Rio Olympics may appear the only viable option as there is simply no time to rope in a new coach and make him settle down with the players. If Oltmans takes charge of the senior team, then what happens to the ambitious high performance program, which the Dutchman was supposed to oversee along with the five zonal heads.
Chaos is the buzzword in Indian hockey for the moment and spare a thought for the players, who must thinking what has hit them with coaches constantly coming and going and if their performance is not up to the mark, all the blame is pinned on them.
One thing is for sure – Indian hockey likes to be ‘consistently’ in the news for the wrong reasons – Indian hockey are on a high after beating Australia in a Test series in Australia under coach Terry Walsh last November and the period since then, there is little doubt that Indian hockey has taken several steps backwards. The coming months will be testing times for Indian hockey to wriggle out of these needless off-the-pitch episodes and march forward in their pursuit of regain the lost glory.Published 21 Jul 2015, 23:51 IST