By the looks of it, Indian hockey is sinking deeper into the quicksand of politics and ego clashes and one can only sympathise with the sport that had brought the country so many Olympic gold medals. I fear for its demise and unless remedial steps are taken, hockey will survive only in name in India.
Sports Minister Maken can rave and rant, and even threaten, but I doubt if he can turn the game around in the next decade or two. If still Indian teams continue to win matches, praise the players and not the administrators who are wolves in sheep's garb.
The present impasse with two administrative bodies, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and the upstart Hockey India (HI) are jockeying for power, position and control, is rather messy and complex. The chief perpetrators of this mess are behind bars and yes, I am referring to the likes of Suresh Kalmadi who unilaterally pulled the plug on the IHF in the summer of 2008, instituted an ad hoc body that subsequently assumed the avatar of Hockey India headed by Batra.
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The International Hockey Federation (FIH), on its part, jumped into the hot waters of Indian politics by recognizing HI and permitting Batra's men to conduct the 2010 World Cup in Delhi. Never for a moment did the FIH paused to consider the antecedents of HI and Kalmadi's dictatorial methods wherein he misused his position in the Indian Olympic Association to de-affiliate the IHF which however, continued to enjoy Indian government's recognition.
The past two years has seen much arm-twisting, politics of the cheapest kind and money-power playing major role in sullying the image of Indian hockey. Further, IOA's State units got into the act by encouraging formation of rival bodies pledging allegiance to Batra's gang while destabilizing existing State Associations affiliated to the IHF. Such stunts led to a slew of court cases quite a few of which are still pending decisions.
I have not witnessed such brazenness in Indian hockey in the past three decades with the exception of KPS Gill's election in 1994 at Bhopal where he bullied his way to the post of IHF president, using gun-toting commandos and locking up representatives of the State units in hotel rooms. Perhaps, Batra is paying back in the same coin though this businessman was nowhere on the scene 17 years ago.
As dirty as Kalmadi and Batra played to usurp power, Gill and his cohorts perhaps invited the problem by their own dictatorial and 'Tughlaqian' administration. Gill and his disgraced secretary-general K Jothikumaran were both guilty of allowing the sport to slide from bad to worse as neither was competent enough to hold such responsible positions. The duo hung on by taking the political route, currying favours by way of foreign trips and plum positions to secure or retain support.
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I doubt if Batra and his gang will be any better should they finally come out on top as I expect them to. The IHF, with RK Shetty, whom I have known for close to two decades, at the helm, have predictably not accepted Maken's merger formula that I feel is not the way forward. I would rather convene fresh elections and office-bearers are elected.
The point is that the sport has suffered untold damage, courtesy our warring administrators. Add to the mix FIH's greed to milk money from India following the success of the 2010 World Cup. FIH president Negre might assault our ears with some lofty and idealistic statements, but the irrefutable fact is that India is critical to hockey's development and subsistence internationally.
The World Cup last year showcased India's financial might as the FIH walked away with the moneybags and now is greedy for more as could be gauged from the allotment of many international tournaments to India. All the talk about helping Indian hockey back on its feet is a mere smokescreen and hogwash that only the uninitiated would believe.
Indian hockey is flat on its back and all but knocked out, but our administrators seem blind to this or more likely, care two hoots so long as they retain power and position. Our Sports Ministry too is clueless and, to an extent, helpless. Thus, it will be a couple of generations before India can even aspire to win an Olympic medal, much less the gold or the World Cup.
The sad part is that Indian hockey is orphaned at this moment, by its administrators, the Corporate India and yes, a majority of the public whose hockey awareness starts and ends with Dhanraj Pillay! But then, how many of us give a damn? You won't need two hands to count.