On sticky turf

Indian hockey continues to be dogged by controversies, even though IHF chief KPS Gill claims that the gameís popularity is on the rise. A report by Prabhjot Singh

In 1990, when international coach Horst Wein advocated the need for Perestroika in hockey, he wanted to revolutionise the game by making it more spectacular and viewer friendly. Fifteen years later, a horde of Olympians, sports administrators, players and officials feel that Indian hockey needs Perestroika, as they think all is not well with the administration of the sport in the country.

Changing coaches like a sweat shirt, abrupt changes in the national team and failure to hold the Senior National Championship since 2000 have been some of the immediate provocations for the Senior Vice-President of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), Mr Narinder Batra, to raise a banner of revolt.

"Controversies which started early this month on the eve of the launch of the Premier Hockey League have died down. The PHL has started on a grand note," asserts the IHF chief, Mr KPS Gill, claiming that hockey has been coming up and its viewership has increased manifold in the past few years.

Rachís outburst

Gerhard Rach
Gerhard Rach 
Rajinder Singh Sr
Rajinder Singh Sr

The latest controversy erupted just before the much-publicised Premier Hockey League (PHL) was to begin. The termination of the contract of chief coach Gerhard Rach and his outburst against the IHF top bosses acted as a catalyst for those advocating a change in the control of the game in the country.

Before leaving India, the German coach, appointed on the eve of the Athens Olympics, heaped criticism on the IHF bosses, calling the federation a "madhouse" and accusing it of thrusting upon him a list of 16 players to endorse.

His appointment was also not without controversy. He took over the reins of the Indian team when a few weeks were left for the Olympics. The removal of his predecessor, Rajinder Singh Sr, too, had evoked criticism from all quarters.

A year of rows

2004 was marked by one row after another. Initially, it was over the selection of players. The dropping of Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Dhillon stirred a hornetís nest. Subsequently, they were recalled and included in the Olympic contingent. But then the assistant coach, Baldev Singh, was dropped.

The latest has been the revolt by Mr Batra, who was elected Senior Vice-President as a nominee of the Jammu and Kashmir Hockey Association. Mr Batra fired a salvo on January 10, accusing the Honorary Secretary-General of the IHF of circumventing constitutional provisions in convening the annual general meeting at Hyderabad on January 30.

He raised objections as to why certain mandatory documents, including minutes of the last general house meeting, the report of the Secretary-General and audited statement of accounts, were not circulated along with the agenda of the meeting. He also questioned why documents about the holding of PHL and the Senior National Championship were not circulated.

Dhanraj Pillay

 Gagan Ajit Singh
Dhanraj Pillay ( top) and Gagan Ajit Singh earned the ire of the IHF

Mr Batra wanted complete details of the expenses incurred by the President and the Secretary-General on their telephone bills, domestic travel and hotel bills, foreign travel and hotel bills, grants received from the Union Government on behalf of players and the money actually spent on them, money received from sponsors and its utilisation, details of miscellaneous expenses and also details of payments or recoveries due from different sources.

Mr Batra held that though all these documents should have been circulated 21 days prior to the annual general meeting, the balance sheet was still not ready till January 15.

Turbulent history

The history of Indian hockey is full of controversies. In 1964, before the Indian team left for New Zealand en route to Tokyo for the Olympics, the dropping of penalty corner specialist Prithipal Singh hit the headlines. Ultimately, the IHF relented and included him in the team but as halfback, a position at which he refused to play in New Zealand where India lost the first Test to the hosts.

Subsequently, Prithipal was fielded as a fullback and he emerged the top scorer in the Tokyo Olympics, where India wrested the gold it had lost in Rome four years earlier.

In 1968, the appointment of joint captains ó Prithipal Singh and Gurbax Singh ó hit the morale of the Indian Olympic team, which for the first time failed to make the final and ended with a bronze.

In 1975, Indian players had threatened to boycott the national team till the controversy over control of the IHF was settled. After Indiaís maiden World Cup triumph in Kuala Lumpur, the control of hockey shifted from the doyen of hockey, Mr Ashwani Kumar, to Mr MAM Ramaswamy.

In 1976, when Mr Ramaswamy made Aslam Khan the captain of the Indian team for an invitation tournament in Lahore, the then chairman of the selection committee, Mr Prithipal Singh, resigned. He held that he was not even consulted over the selection of the team.

The Indian team is ranked fifth in the world
The Indian team is ranked fifth in the world

This time, just a few months before the Athens Olympics were held, the Ministry of Sports asked the IHF to name its selection committee. A five-member selection committee comprising Mr Gurbax Singh, Mr Aslam Sher Khan, Mr Surinder Singh Sodhi, Mr B.P. Govinda and Mr M.P. Ganesh (nominee of the Sports Authority of India) was named. The government did not react to the formation of the committee, while Mr Ganesh did not join it.

It was probably this committee about which Gerhard Rach had commented for handing him over a list of 16 players at the last moment.

In fact, government guidelines on the appointment of national coach are clear. It requires a committee under the chairmanship of the President of the federation with nominees of the SAI and the IOA on it. But in the case of the German coach, no such committee was constituted and the IHF only intimated to the government about his appointment.

Neither the Ministry of Sports nor the SAI contributed anything towards payment to the German coach. Under guidelines, the letter of appointment of national coach in any sport is issued by the SAI.

The main allegation of dissident officials, players and sports administrators against the present set-up of the IHF has been "arbitrariness" in their functioning.

They held that even selection committees were either not constituted or were only an eyewash. None of the important issues are taken either to the executive or the general house. Meetings of the executive and general house are far and few between.

The executive committee should normally take a decision about the venue of the annual general meeting. Instead both meetings are clubbed.

Whither nationals?

Since 1996, only one Senior National Championship has been held, in 2000. The dissidents maintain that by not holding the National Championship, proper talent hunt could not be held. As such, the same set of players have been around for a long time.

Proper maintenance of accounts is another issue that has been responsible for simmering discontent.

Some former players are resentful of the IHF Presidentís remarks that all Olympians after 1966 were not "Olympians" but losers. They argue that how can a man who may not have wielded a stick all his life comment on those who toiled hard and earned the right to represent the country in the Olympics. How many Olympians the country has produced, they ask, stating that Indian hockey had won a bronze each in 1968 and 1972 and a gold in 1980. Besides, India won the World Cup in 1975.

They claim that the federation has done little to help the country in regaining supremacy in the sport.


Hockey on the upswing

KPS Gill"Hockey is on the upswing. We are improving everyday. India is ranked fifth in the world, which is arguably the highest position in any sport played by the country. With a little bit of luck and a push, we will be among the top three very soon," says the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) chief, Mr KPS Gill.

"The controversy you are talking about has died down," he claims, maintaining that certain vested interests within the country are not keen that India should do well in the sport. "Every time the IHF is about to start something new, say the Premier Hockey League, or sign a sponsorship deal, they engineer a controversy," he says.

"In the case of PHL, the controversy died a much quicker death than expected. Those behind this controversy were not working in the interest of hockey but only creating a media event. We hope that the annual general meeting to be held in Hyderabad on January 30 would be a smooth affair," adds Mr Gill.

"What the German coach said was all nonsense," claims Mr Gill, saying that he himself was surprised at the growing viewership of hockey in the country.

"See the figures for the recent India-Pakistan Test series or the successful start of the PHL. It indicates the revival of the game in a big way in the country," he states.

"Fortunately for us, we are able to sustain and continue our programme of nurturing talent at the grassroots level. About five or six years ago we had a band of 30-odd players to select our team. Now we have about 60 players who have been vying for a berth in the national team. Whenever we talk to any foreign coach, they get surprised that we have such a big base to select our national team."

He agrees that the Senior National Championship could not be held for some years. "We have been very regular and religious in holding the Junior National Championship. It is the base which needs to be strengthened. If you look at our record, most of our junior players have graduated into our senior team. It takes time to build a base," he adds, stating that the decision to hold the Senior National Championship has already been taken. "We are dividing the entire country into eight zones and the championship will be held in March."

"When I commented about our Olympians, it was not without purpose. Hear what Pakistanís Waseem Ahmed has to say. Olympians and international players of yesteryear have not contributed much for the growth of the game. If they had been contributing a small portion of their time and their expertise, the game would have benefited tremendously. Only a handful of Olympians and international players are doing a good job for the sport," he says.

About the PHL, Mr Gill said the composition of teams was done in consultation with the secretaries of all the affiliated units. Even institutions like banks, oil companies, police and others were consulted and their consent was obtained before inducting their players in one team or the other. The criticism of the composition of the teams is baseless, he says.

Mr Gill states that the IHF is keeping its options open about the appointment of the new coach. "The new coach could be an Indian or a foreigner. We have left the decision to a later date. Now we are planning to have a six-nation tournament as a dress rehearsal for the Champions Trophy to be held in Chennai. Before that we will participate in RaboBank Invitation Tournament in Holland.

"We also plan to have a panel of coaches as some of the coaches in the PHL were doing an excellent job," he added.

IHF must answer

Narinder Batra, Senior Vice-President, wants the federation to come clean.

"I stand by every word I said in my letters or at Press conferences about the functioning of the Indian Hockey Federation. If they do not give me answers, I will not sit down quietly. If need be, I may move court also," says Mr Narinder Batra, Senior Vice-President of the Indian Hockey Federation.

"I am going to insist on every minute detail of the balance sheet. How can a few office-bearers spend federation money on their own than use it for promoting the sport, improving the infrastructure and giving players their promised share," states Mr Batra, saying that in the interest of the game he does not want the January 30 annual general meeting to be postponed .

"I like reading balance sheets. It is my passion. Let them present the balance which they still not have finished and I will tell them where they have messed up. They are trying to claim that Doordarshan owes them Rs 88 lakh, while the latter maintains that the IHF has to pay Rs 90 lakh to them. We want to know the truth," avers Mr Batra.

Claiming that he is not against IHF chief KPS Gill or Secretary-General K. Jothikumaran, but against their style of functioning, he says, "Why donít they circulate the documents required to be sent to all units along the annual general meeting notice?"

"The federation was never taken into confidence about the removal of Rajinder Singh Sr as the coach of national team and the appointment of Gerhard Rach in his place. The IHF had to constitute a selection committee only on the directions of the Ministry of Sports. How can a foreigner criticise us so much in our own country and maintain that the IHF must clear his dues? We must seek a public apology from him for defaming the federation and not pay him anything more. What were his credentials to be appointed our national coach," asked Mr Batra. He said his holding of a Press conference with Mr Gill in Hyderabad recently did not mean that he had given up his "fight".

He held that the German coach only interacted with either Mr Gill or Mr Jothikumaran. How can he call the entire federation a "madhouse"?

"I stand by my word. I would contest against Mr Gill," he asserted."I am not keen to run the IHF. Let it be left to players and professionals who know and understand the game. I have played more hockey than either Mr Gill or Mr Jothikumaran. I played in seven senior National Championships, three Junior National Championships and five inter-university tournaments.

"What is the idea of appointing a selection committee without allowing them to function as selectors? I refuse to continue as a dummy official of the federation, which has brought the game great disrepute in the country. People are laughing at us over the manner in which we have been treating our players and coaches. What right Mr Gill had to call Olympians losers?

"The charges facing the IHF are serious and need to be probed to save the game. Government guidelines are being flouted about selection of teams and appointment of coaches. I wonder why members of the selection committee appointed before the Athens Olympics kept quiet when the German coach made serious allegations against them. They should have snubbed him. Why should hockey suffer because of a few individuals," asks Mr Batra.

He opines that the IHF must have a transparent and accountable administration and a vision for the development of the game. ó PS

ó Photos by Pradeep Tiwari