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Interview: Hockey India President Narinder Batra - Politicians don't care about sport as it does not fetch votes

The President of Hockey India spoke to Sportskeeda about a large number of issues.

Narinder Batra, Hockey India President
Narinder Batra, President of Hockey India, spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview

The debate around the progress of sport in India has been going on for a long time and a lot of it, more often than not, boils down to the administration part. Narinder Batra, the President of Hockey India, believes that Indian sport will see an immediate improvement the day it starts fetching votes for political parties and benefitting their political agendas.

He also made it clear that there is no question of playing against Pakistan with the exception of FIH (Federation of International Hockey) events, given the relations between the two countries and the incident that took place in 2014 Champions Trophy. Batra, who will be contesting the FIH Presidential elections in November, spoke to Sportskeeda about ties with Pakistan, India’s performance at the recently concluded 2016 Rio Olympics and the condition of sport in the country.

Also read: Pakistan's participation in the Junior Hockey World Cup depends on government approval

The Indian hockey teams, both men and women, might have returned from 2016 Rio Olympics without any medals, but Batra feels that things are only going to improve in the future and targets have been set keeping the same in mind.

Here are a few excerpts from his exclusive interview with Sportskeeda :

Tell us a little bit about how much power the President of Hockey India possesses and describe the stake he holds in the ultimate decisions that are made.

The decision-making power in Indian hockey does not lie in the hands of one person, in particular. We have an Executive Board, CEO and high-performance officer among others. There are a lot of experts we have on board and it is only after a lot of discussion among these people that the suggestions come to me. We often have disagreements and that is the good part about our federation. There are no Yes Men.

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) created a committee to review the performance of the 12 shooters at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Did Hockey India create any such committee or was there a review report about the teams’ performances?

We had a meeting about the performances of both the men’s and women's team at the 2016 Rio Olympics but we will not be discussing them with the media or the public. The NRAI may have done it due to political compulsions but not us. What we discuss in meetings remains sacrosanct but I can assure you that steps will be taken to improve the quality of hockey and our performances in the future. These will also be target-based so that assessment can be made on factual grounds.

How do you rate the performances of the men’s and women’s hockey teams in Rio and what are their future goals?

The performance of the men’s team at the 2016 Rio Olympics was good but the results do not reflect the same. However, we have ironed out issues and they will be targeting a minimum top-four finish at competitions in the future. Nothing less than that would be acceptable. In fact, I expect a podium finish at the Junior World Cup in December.

As far as the women’s team is concerned, I would expect them to reach the top 8 within the next two years and stay at that level.

Why do a lot of women in India not take up hockey as a long-term career?

Sadly, women in India tend to stop playing sports after the age of 24-25 due to various reasons. Social compulsions, family permissions and commitments prevent them from playing for longer periods. From the sporting perspective, the mentality in the country needs to change and we also need to hold more tournaments for women, bringing them up to the level of men.

Despite it being a great integrating and unity factor, why does sport not get enough attention from the political establishment? Also, are sporting federations, themselves, doing enough to facilitate their respective sports?

Sports do not get votes for politicians and maybe that is why they do not pay attention to their progress. State governments, except for a few, do not provide enough support to sports and that results in a lack of funds, which then leads to talent not coming through. We have been raising money on our own for a long time.

Federations need to take responsibility for the condition of their sports in the country. Blaming the Sports Authority of India (SAI) will not get us anywhere and we need to start hosting events rather than playing the blame-game.

There is a lot of politics going on within the boards itself. I am fully aware of what happens behind the scenes in Indian sports but there is no point going into details.

Coaching is a big area of concern for sports in India including hockey. Why do we not produce enough good quality coaches?

The level of coaches in India is not up to the mark as compared to the other countries. The game has transformed tremendously and it has become quite scientific, which is the reason why we have an analytics coach and a high-performance coach. Unfortunately, the mentality in India is quite archaic and we are still living in the past glory of Olympic success and eight gold medals. This needs to change.

At present, or in the next four years, I do not see an Indian becoming the head coach of the national men’s hockey team. However, I do believe that we can tap into the coaching talent and get rid of the reluctance of Indians wanting to become trainers.

Will Pakistan be taking part in the Junior World Cup scheduled to take place in India in December? Also, is there a possibility of India and Pakistan playing hockey in a bilateral series in the future?

See, the Junior Hockey World Cup is an FIH event and Hockey India has no say in that. We have completed all formalities for inviting Pakistan but I do not know whether they will be coming or not.

As far as your second question is concerned, my issue with Pakistan stretches back to 2014, when their players misbehaved during the Champions Trophy match. We have been invited to play tri-lateral series including Pakistan on several occasions but we have denied it straight away.

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