Why Hockey India is embattled on many fronts

Written by Mihir Vasavda
| New Delhi |

Updated: July 13, 2017 9:55 am

India’s dismal show at the Hockey World League semifinals in London has been overshadowed by the developments that have taken place off the field.

India’s dismal show at the Hockey World League semifinals in London has been overshadowed by the developments that have taken place off the field. First, former captain Sardar Singh was interrogated by Leeds police in connection with a sexual assault case a day after India defeated Pakistan. Former Hockey India (HI) president Narinder Batra, who now heads the International Hockey Federation (FIH) jumped to his defence and instead alleged the British MPs of Pakistan origin orchestrated it. An upset FIH forced Batra to personally apologise to Pakistani and England officials.

The issue looked settled but last week, HI raked up the issue again. They alleged that there was an attempt to fix HWL matches and then pulled out of the Hockey Pro League, a tournament that will begin in January 2019. Amidst souring relations between the Indian and world body, the national team’s performance has been swept under the carpet. Here is a look at how the events unfolded:

The World League was one of the worse tournaments India has played in the last couple of years. There was a performance review scheduled, did it take place?

As is the case after every tournament, chief coach Roelant Oltmans was asked to submit a report within 48 hours of the tournament getting over. Hockey India’s high performance director David John had told PTI that ‘tough questions’ will be asked and a review will be held in first week of July. However, it hasn’t happened till now. Instead, HI has complained to the FIH that there was an attempt to fix the India-Pakistan match. It has also attacked the England hockey federation and FIH for not ‘protecting’ the players.

The match-fixing allegation sounds serious. Is there any truth to it?

The allegations are based on reports submitted by Indian team manager Jugraj Singh and former captain Sardar Singh. The contents of their letters are similar to what former HI president Narinder Batra had posted on his Facebook page. Batra had accused the Indian-origin British girl, who has alleged that Sardar sexually assaulted her, of taking help from British-Pakistani MPs who were elected to office in the recent elections. Hockey India further added that the MPs paid the girl £5,000 to file the police complaint.

Batra is also the president of the FIH. Embarrassingly for him, he was forced to delete those posts and made to apologise to Pakistan and England officials. Even in its letter to the FIH, HI said the evidence was circumstantial. An investigation, though, has been ordered according to an unnamed FIH official, who told PTI that they will ask England to probe the match-fixing allegations and submit a report in 2-3 months.

Hockey India then pulled out of the ‘Pro League.’ Is it linked to any of this?

HI had gone out of the way to promote the newest competition from the FIH stable. So the decision to pull out was a surprise not just for the FIH but even the Indian players and coaches. It is believed that HI is unhappy with the way FIH handled the Sardar Singh issue and made Batra apologise. The recent sequence of events suggests this is an arm-twisting technique. HI used the poor ranking of the women’s team as an excuse but it makes little sense. Even then, there was no reason to withdraw the men’s team. HI have not made any official statement yet. The FIH, on the other hand, gave an uncharacteristically quick confirmation.

What is Pro League? Will Indian hockey be affected? 

The Pro League is an international home-and-away tournament that will be played every weekend from January to June 2019 onwards. The top four countries will qualify for the Olympic qualifiers. The Indian officials feel there will financial implications for the FIH if they pull out and the tournament will lose some sheen. That may be true but India stand to lose more. By skipping the league, India will struggle to play quality opponents for half a year, resulting in a virtual isolation. The Hockey India League, too, will be impacted since it takes place during this period and most players will choose country over club.

Isn’t the HIL already in trouble? 

There are serious concerns over the 2018 edition. The franchises are bleeding and because of the indoor World Cup, which will be played in February, several international stars might be unavailable for full season. A final decision is likely to be taken by the end of this month. Sounds like Hockey India is fighting on multiple fronts.

Yes and we haven’t even focus on the on-field part. The camp gets underway this week in Bangalore and there are many issues that need to be addressed. Several key players, including captain PR Sreejesh and defender Rupinderpal Singh, are injured while some others are going through a lean patch. To add to the mess, speculations are rife over Oltmans’ future. He is likely to meet Hockey India officials this week to thrash out issues.

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