Sonia Bathla is one of four Indian officials appointed by FIH for the 2023 Men's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar. Sonia Bathla has been named as the technical officer while Dr. Bibhu Kalyan Nayak (medical officer), Raghu Prasad and Javed Shaikh (umpires) have also been appointed in other capacities.
What makes Sonia Bathla's appointment for the marquee event special is, she would be the only Indian female official at the Men's World Cup.
Hockey is Sonia Bathla's first love. Having graduated from Delhi University, the live-wire went on to captain the university team and the state team. In a bid to stay relevant with the sport, Sonia Bathla took up umpiring in 2010. She soon made inroads into the Hockey India League and also served as a judge in the Asian Hockey Federation.
With five years of rich experience as an umpire and seven years as a technical officer, Sonia Bathla has seen the game grow leaps and bounds.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Sonia Bathla, who serves as an Assistant Director in the Directorate of Physical Education and Sports department at the SRM University, Sonepat Campus, outlined her roles and responsibilities.
Having seen the game grow up close, Sonia Bathla said adaptability is the name of the game in recent times.
"The game has gone through a lot of dynamic changes in the last decade or so. I have been an umpire for five years and now as a technical officer for close to seven years. It has been an eventful journey, laden with a lot of learning. The rules have undergone many changes and so has how we managed a match," Sonia said.
With no dearth of tournaments in India, Sonia Bathla feels she and her team are in good stead as they are able to implement and understand any rule changes at home before they head out on the international stage.
For example, the interface of the Tournament Management System (TMS) was changed by the FIH before the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers in 2019. Sonia Bathla and her team had a training session for the new interface and even tried it out in some domestic matches.
Their experience proved handy as teams around the world struggled to get hands-on during the qualifiers while Indian officials breezed through it.
Sonia Bathla and her role of a technical official
Explaining further on the role of a technical official, Sonia Bathla said their roles revolve around three designations - technical officer, time judge and the scoring judge.
"As technical officials, our responsibility is to ensure an error-free and a clean match. The biggest motivation is the positive outlook that we have before every match. We are committed to completing our job on a good note and even though sometimes tempers flay between officials and team management (coaches, managers etc), it is our maturity of understanding that those things happen in the temprement of the game solves any untoward incidents."
"At the national level, we have a clear demarcation of all three roles, however, at the international level, we are required to take up any of the above roles, as deemed by the FIH official and the tournament head," she explained.
Sonia Bathla and her team are in charge of making sure the players and the officials play within the spirit of the game. Communication plays a key role and with many Asian countries not conversant in English, Sonia Bathla feels, the emotion is sometimes lost in translation.
Asian Champions Trophy - an experience like never before
Although Sonia Bathla did not get an opportunity to officiate at the Tokyo Olympics, she officiated in a capacity of Technical Delegate in the recently concluded Women's Asian Champions Trophy in Donghae, South Korea.
"This was a very different experience. It was the first international tournament after COVID-19 emerged. We had a lot of pandemic-related regulations to follow too, keeping a lot of safety parameters in mind. As a technical delegate, I was in charge of running the show. It was quite tough, with two teams (Malaysia and India) pulling out of the tournament due to the emergence of a positive COVID-19 case. But overall, it was a rich experience," Sonia said.
The coronavirus infection in the Indian camp did keep Sonia Bathla and her team in tenterhooks.
"The Indian team and the officials were staying in the same hotel. We would have definitely crossed paths at some point or the other, either in common areas or in the elevators etc. In the 14-day duration, I had to take eight COVID-19 tests. Most of our time went off in praying for the test result to be negative. Even before we could rejoice that we had tested negative, it was time for the next test. Thankfully, the COVID-19 issues did not plague the tournament officials and we were able to pull the tournament off without further glitches," she explained.
With the immense support of her employers, the SRM University, for which Sonia Bathla is extremely thankful, the versatile technical officer is looking forward for the Men's World Cup, which would add a feather in an already illustrious cap.