Meet the French-based Indian hockey family whose love for Odisha led to a birthday gift for Fani relief

Tony Fernandes with 1980 Moscow Gold Medalist V Bhaskaran
Tony Fernandes with 1980 Moscow Gold Medalist V Bhaskaran
Subhashish Majumdar

With just over three weeks to go for the start of the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar, the tickets for the tournament which serves as the Olympic qualifiers have gone live.

The hosts will be looking to justify their world rankings and come through the competition unscathed before making it to the next round.

The top 2 teams from each of the 3 Finals will qualify for the last phase of the Olympic qualification events where they will be joined by the top 4 teams of the Hockey Pro League.

Malaysia and Canada have progressed from the Kuala Lumpur leg of the HSF and will await the finalists from Bhubaneswar and Le Touquet.

In addition, the two highest-ranked teams as per FIH World Rankings, (at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships) who have not qualified will then be drawn to play each other.

Japan, Mexico, USA, Poland, South Africa, Russia, and Uzbekistan will lock horns with the home team, at the Kalinga Stadium - and, barring any major shocks, the Indian men would be expected to finish amongst the top two.

What has concerned the organizers, however, is the damage to the periphery of the stadium which occurred when cyclone Fani unleashed its fury on the state of Odisha earlier this month.

The efforts taken by the Government of Odisha to minimize the impact of the damage have been lauded around the world.

The residents of the state have done their bit, as well, to recover from the devastating effects of Fani - with some much-needed assistance from loved ones abroad.

In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, Former coach, Harendra Singh who guided the Indians to a World Cup quarterfinal at the same venue last December, shed light on the efforts of two individuals who backed up their love for the state of Odisha with some commendable actions.

"Ashley Fernandes, chairman of XAVIER-EMLYON Business School - the first Indo-French Business School was in Bhubaneswar two days before FANI hit the city and the State of Odisha."
"He and his father Tony Fernandes - Indian Hockey player and mentor to so many Indian stalwarts - had also spent some great time together bonding during the recent Hockey World Cup held in Bhubaneswar, and loved the hospitality and kindness of the people of the great state of Odisha."

Tony Fernandes, who is an accomplished hockey player based in France, has mentored several Indians players like Dhanraj Pillay, Jude Felix, and Harendra Singh during the time they spent in the French league during the 1990s.

"Uncle Tony has always helped - on and off the field, in many ways. As for Ashley, via the family philanthropy 'Play&Study', he has also contributed to various causes. All had one thing in common - the love for India and it’s people."
"So when Fani created havoc, they felt it was their duty to help in the reconstruction effort launched by the Chief Minister. They contributed 2,00,000 INR to this relief fund on May 6th. It was Ashley’s birthday."

As a family, we have a close connection with India, but Odisha is special - Ashley Fernandes

Flanked by hockey legends - MM Somaya (left) and Merwyn Fernandes (right)
Flanked by hockey legends - MM Somaya (left) and Merwyn Fernandes (right)

"I am based abroad - but I was born in India", said Ashley to Sportskeeda when we attempted to delve a bit deeper in what prompted the truly noble gesture.

"As a family, we have a very close connection with India. My dad is Indian - he lives in France for six months and the rest of the year in Mumbai."
"Of course the connection with Odisha is special because I am the chairman of the first Indo-French business school there. As I told Harry (Harendra Singh), we spent a great fifteen days there during the World Cup."
"The job that was done there, to create the atmosphere and the ambience was truly special. With daddy, we go to every World Cup, and we have witnessed four World Cups thus far. We were at the Delhi World Cup too - but believe me, the one in Bhubaneswar was incredible."

"It's very simple - I called Daddy and said we must do something"

"I was in Odisha just two days before the cyclone struck - I was in Delhi when it finally did. I felt helpless and frustrated. I was leaving India the same night, and when I returned to France, I noticed on social media, that the Chief Minister of Odisha had launched a relief fund."
"It's very simple - I called Daddy and said we must do something. It also happened to be my birthday on May 6. The best gift I could have, was to give back, and show my concern and help to rebuild the state in a very small way. It was my way of trying to be close to the people who were in dire straits."

Ashley, who has played hockey for the French national side rues the fact that he never got to play against India - but was more than appreciative of the manner in which Jeroen Delmee's side stunned the world in Bhubaneswar.

The French side beat Olympic champions Argentina en route to a place in the World Cup quarterfinals, and Ashley attributed the success to a solid structure and process, and hoped that Les Blues would make it to Tokyo 2020 - before they automatically qualify for Paris 2024.

"I played for the French side, but unfortunately I never played against India - although I played against Pakistan quite a few times. I always say, look at the process, and you will get the outcome."
"France is hosting one of the FIH Series Finals (in Le Touquet, next month) and I think they will do very well - they may even get a chance to compete in the Tokyo Olympics."
"The 2024 Games are in Paris, so France will definitely be there, but if they do make it to Tokyo, the buildup to the next edition will be just incredible."
"When you are a hockey player, you realize there are ups and downs - and when you are down, you need to find your resilience again."

As Harendra summed up, their efforts possibly emanate from an inherent spirit that is predominantly sportsmanlike.

"In recognizing the resilience of others, reaching out and lending them a helping hand, Uncle Tony once again showed us that sports is a way of life, and a mindset that makes us better if we stay true to the spirit."

Harendra recalled the words of the family following the birthday gift to the people of Odisha- 'Life is not about accumulation but about contribution."

Edited by Alan John
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