An interesting period in Indian sports was when the hockey team had not even qualified for the 2008 Olympics under the charge of KPS Gill, the president of Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) then. The supercop was seen to be the overlord of the complete mess that the sport was in and things came to such a pass that everyone wanted him out, but he remained firmly ensconced in his seat because of a stranglehold over the IHF. To remove him, the IHF itself had to be suspended. But the irony would only become apparent later when the man who had engineered Gill’s removal, Suresh Kalmadi, found himself in a similar situation. Everyone wanted him out as Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president after the Commonwealth Games scam, but he refused to go. Eventually the IOA had to be suspended to force him out. In sports administration in India, everything always comes a full circle.
Gill went and was replaced by an ad hoc committee of sportsmen. Later Hockey India was formed to administer the sport but it didn’t make much difference. Hockey remains as interesting off-field as on-field. Normally you expect things to go topsy-turvy when the team is doing badly, but for it to happen when they have been performing admirably does take doing. Terry Walsh, our erstwhile national hockey coach from Australia, who has just led us to a victory in the Asian Games, our first in 16 years, has decided he can’t stand it any longer. One version of the story says that he was negotiating after the end of his contract and asking for too much. Walsh says it is more than money. The resignation letter that he tendered last month (and then withheld pending negotiations) had these lines: ‘I am finding considerable difficulty adjusting to the decision making style of the sporting bureaucracy in India which I believe, in the long term, is not in the best interests of Indian Hockey or its players.’
But he also has a very strange demand to make. This week, as talks broke down, he told the media that he wanted the flexibility to work from Perth in Australia. For an analogy, consider the uproar if Greg Chappell had said that he would remain in Australia while coaching the Indian cricket team. To make it even more surreal, Hockey India President Narinder Batra now says that Walsh is leaving because he committed a financial irregularity, not here in India but in the United States when he was coaching there. Batra and Walsh don’t get along, and, given that there had been a committee set up to negotiate with Walsh which excluded Batra, this seems like petty politicking. It is only shocking because it is happening at a level where the trajectory of Indian hockey is being decided.
Indian hockey, some say, has been in terminal decline for a long time. In places like Mumbai, hockey used to played on the streets but the sport is almost invisible now to the public eye. And likewise for many other parts of the country. Hockey’s problems begin from both ends; lower down, less and less people are playing the game, and at the top, administrators botch it up at every opportunity. And on both ends, it will only get worse.