Indian hockey is drifting rudderless (Comment)

September 24th, 2008 - 10:38 am ICT by IANS  

Things were never so bad, even during the dark days of the power struggle in Indian hockey in the 1970s when the country’s participation in the 1975 Kuala Lumpur world cup itself was in danger. There was no set-up as the Sports Authority of India then; so on a request by Raja Bhalindra Singh, the then president of the Indian Hockey Federation, Giani Zail Singh, the then Punjab chief minister, took the responsibility of preparing the World Cup team in Chandigarh. The rest, as they say, is history.It turned out that Ajit Pal Singh’s team, coached by Balbir Singh Sr., who was ably assisted by the late Gurcharan Singh Bodhi, went on to win the tournament, the only time India has won the world cup. Success, as we all know, has many fathers. One remembers M.A.M. Ramaswamy, disputed president of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), joining the players in the lap of honour at KL and Umrao Singh, the Punjab sports minister, carrying the trophy on his head when the team landed at the Delhi airport.

However bitter the split then, the business of hockey went on somehow. But now, under the ad hoc body, set up by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to run the game after the supersession of the IHF, hockey affairs suffer from the lack of a sense of direction. The popular demand heard was that the players should control the administration of the game. From what one has seen of late, it is plain that the players are now unable to agree among themselves.

One of them, Aslam Sher Khan, who has had a taste of active politics, began exceeding his brief. He was nominated as a selector, but he was heard speaking on administrative matters and acted as a spokesman of the ad hoc committee. Obviously, it was unacceptable to his colleagues and the people who appointed him.

The selection committee plumped for M.K. Kaushik as the team’s coach without studying the clauses of the contract he had signed with the women’s hockey body, which angrily went public with its objections. Now Kaushik, who already has had one stint, a successful one, as the men’s team coach till he was unceremoniously removed from the job, has no choice but to fulfil his contract as the women’s team coach.

A couple of selectors need to be reminded of their opposition to the unhealthy practice of frequent change of coaches. They seem to have different views now. How come they did not opt for continuity and think of asking Joaquim Carvalho to continue as coach?

One can’t help commenting that the long list of probables has several grave omissions and commissions. The selectors have concluded that the services of players like Dilip Tirkey are dispensable. But some unheard of names have been pushed into the list. They had not been heard of before. They are there, it appears, because the selector who recommended their names happens to be their coach at Bhopal hockey academy. All of which leaves one wondering if appointing as selectors people who are employed as academy coaches is the right thing to do. It is important that selectors should not only be fair but also be seen to be fair.

Hockey fans are not sure if the ad hoc dispensation has studied the report of the four coaches who were sent to Beijing to observe the Olympic tournament and taken a view on it. There can be no two opinions that the quality of hockey played at Beijing, in the men’s as well as women’s tournaments, was of the highest order. Did our wise men there put their heads together to prepare a plan for the future? Even in an ad hoc set-up there is scope for a serious professional approach.

In the meanwhile, we have had a seminar at Amby Valley, Pune, of all places, and a general body meeting of the IHF headed by K.P.S. Gill, who has made no secret of his contempt for the IOA and its ad hocism. Obviously, these moves were intended as exercises in anticipation of elections, whenever they are held. The more things change the more they are the same.

(K. Datta is a veteran sports journalist. He can be reached at

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