By Veturi Srivatsa
Whenever a national hockey coach is “sacked” you will invariably find senior pros in the squad and some anonymous former internationals approving the change.
Hockey India (HI) decided to swap the roles of the men’s and women’s coaches, Harendra Singh taking over from Sjaoerd Marijne, who now is back with the women.
Harendra has junior World Cup gold as coach in his CV, yet he is only in charge of the team till HI scouts for another big name from overseas. Perhaps, he would be back with the women’s team or go back to the juniors!
In the case of the Dutch, it was said that the senior players had problems with the team selection and the removal of “khalifas” from the squad without adequate replacements.
It is not clear the basis for this change soon after the Commonwealth Games. Both teams returned without getting on to the podium and both coaches were getting ready to prepare the teams for the Asian Games in Jakarta in August-September and thereafter the women going to China for the Asian Champions Trophy.
Who takes important decisions like appointing a new coach? The man whose name appears as life member at the end of the list of Hockey India (HI) office-bearers, Narinder Dhruv Batra, who is the president of the international Hockey Federation (FIH). He is also the presiding deity of Indian sport by virtue of being the president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
Not many may offhand remember that Mariamma Koshy is the HI president and Mushtaque Ahmad its secretary-general because Indian hockey revolves around Batra.
Batra is backed by the big guns of the ruling party and no wonder he prepared his case and positioned himself to coincide with BJP coming to power at the Centre. His word is final and like all his predecessors he has packed both IOA and HI with his folk.
The jumbo HI executive includes former cricket Board president Anurag Thakur, who is also a Bharatiya Janata Party MP, and Hiten Jain, BJP lawyer-spokesman as associate vice-presidents.
Batra has been the man who had a say in the appointment and the sacking of almost all the foreign coaches, though he was not all that powerful when Rick Charlesworth was shown the door.
Hockey officialdom disliked foreign coaches for their straight-talking and the knowledge of sport. First they dragged into the politics of the federation and then dumped. All it needed was defeat in a major event and it was cited that their lack of communicative skills as they could not speak Hindi.
Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs and Paul van Ass may not have the kind of outstanding credentisl with which Terry Walsh and Roelant Oltmans came here, but when it came to removing them they have all been treated as shabbily as the other.
Overnight they all became incompetent and indisciplined. And there was drama maligning the oaches with all sorts of stories carefully planted. Even the media could not save a couple of coaches.
The one Indian coach who won something is Maharj Krishan Kaushik. He won the Asian Games gold for India in 1998 at Bangkok after three decades, but was sacked immediately after the success. That was not Batra’s doing, it was done by the equally autocratic Super Cop Kunwar Pal Singh Gill, whose first signal of authority was to get rid of Zafar Iqbal for not winning the gold at the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994. From the Zafar-trained team went to Sydney for the World Cup where they finished fifth, their best for decades.
Another former hockey chief, Raghunandan Prasad, refusing to take all the muck thrown at him, showed how India fared after winning the World Cup at Kuala Lumpur in 1975. They never entered the semi-finals.
He was the first man to say some two-and-a-half decades ago that India needed players, not coaches. He wanted to tell his critics that he knew his hockey and armed with stats he said it had nothing to do with IHF presidents or secretaries but fans have to accept that the quality of Indian hockey was on the downslide.
Whatever the Batra fan club might say, Prasad’s words still ring in the ears. Yes, we now have a better calendar to play overseas and also more international events being played in India, but no top teams visit India to play bilateral series on a regular basis like the international cricket calendar.
Of course, the argument would be only 10 teams play cricket!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)