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Carrying the baton

Carrying the baton
Having spent nearly a decade in Hockey India – first as its secretary general and then its president – Narinder Dhruv Batra has ensured that Indian hockey scales new heights every time. With the expansion of the game through social media and generation of revenue at the top of his list of priorities, Batra embarked on the road to be the president of the Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH) and emerged victorious. His goals are simple, yet tough to achieve. 

But if his reign as the president of Hockey India is anything to go by, one can be sure that Batra always gets the job done. However, he has had his fair share of controversies: the sacking of multiple coaches, constant tussles with the Indian Olympic Association and his demand for suspension of the Pakistani players who made rude gestures to spectators during the 2014 Champions Trophy are incidents that will remain highlights of his administrative career. But he is a man with a plan. In a tete-e-tete with Millennium Post, Batra threw light on the current situation of Indian and world hockey and the road ahead. Excerpts:

Your rise to the top of Hockey India (HI) administration is well-known. It was muddled with constant battle for recognition with Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH) and your opposition of KPS Gill (former IHF President) and you had some tiff with the Indian Olympic Association. That was a tough fight for you. Was your fight to come to the top of FIH the same or was it easier?

All elections are tough. I can say that I am happy and humbled that the people and members of various countries showed faith in me. Now it becomes my duty to live up to their expectations.

Your style of administration has often been termed ‘ruthless’, but it has been effective for the resurrection of Indian hockey in the past four years. Will use the same approach as president of FIH as well?

 I don’t know why people call it ruthless. I am very straight and a simple person to work with. I don’t tolerate anyone trying to manipulate or wriggle out. If you are given a job, do it. Here, the country is concerned. It’s not my personal organization or anybody else’s. Where the nation gets involved, there is no compromise. If people try to look for shortcuts, it doesn’t work with me. 

That was my way of working in India. Internationally, I think we have a very good team of professionals working in Lausanne (headquarters of FIH), which handles the office, along with the CEO. My main aim would be to expand the base of hockey. Right now, in men, it’s limited to 12 or 14 (major teams).

In women, 7 or 8.  I want to take that to about 25-30. I would like to focus on that and also on increasing the revenue for FIH so that we can also help the nations who need some kind of assistance from FIH. I think day-to-day activities are being run properly in FIH. I don’t think I would be required to devote much time towards that.

You managed to increase the coffers of HI from around $500,000 to around $15,000,000. Do you think there are enough financial resources in FIH as well?
  
India is one country, FIH is 131 countries. There is massive scope over there. We need to market it and get the dues in a proper manner. So I don’t see much of a problem in raising the revenues in FIH.

Do you think there are any pressing issues you personally think are troubling you in FIH?
    I don’t see any such problems. Day-to-day work is going well. My only thing is I want to expand the base of hockey. I have only four years with me. So that’s too short a time, but I would like to do the maximum in that short period. And that is the pressing issue I have.

When it comes to sporting administrative bodies – be it FIFA, BCCI – fans often say that they would prefer if former sportspersons are at the helm of such bodies. Being a former hockey player yourself, do you think that it holds true for hockey as well?
    The problem is people think that anybody who has played for the country is an athlete. If person A goes to play for the country it is because the other persons are playing along with him. I have played much beyond the college-level as a hockey player. It’s my bad luck that I couldn’t play for India. And the outgoing FIH president (Leandro Negre) is a former goalkeeper of the Spain national team. So it doesn’t mean that if I have played only till college-level or university-level, I can’t be a part of a sports body. I would say that is a very narrow-minded approach.

At a recent press conference after winning the elections, you regretted that you could not do more for women’s hockey, like introducing a Hockey India League (HIL)-style tournament, and that they couldn’t do very well at the 2016 Olympics. As president of FIH, do you think you can do more for not just women’s hockey in India for all over the world?
    I think all over the world they are handling men’s and women’s hockey in a balanced manner. There is no discrimination. But yes, my regret was that I couldn’t start the women’s league in India. And that I will have to go with.

 You once also said that politicians don’t care much for hockey as it does not get them votes. Why do you think it is so?
     Sports are not things that interest politicians because they don’t get them votes like various communities such as the farmer’s community. They concentrate more on those lines. But when it comes to sports, it is not such a big priority in the Indian political setup. For 58 sports bodies, you get some 170-180 crores from the government to manage with throughout the year. I don’t think with that kind of budgeting you can get medals. I don’t see much scope in that.

Would you like to comment on the recent development in the BCCI-Lodha panel clash?
The judges, especially the retired judges, need to know where to draw a line. You can’t go to the extent of ruining a sports body. Whatever the compulsions are, you give them time to adopt them. Don’t be ruthless just to attract media headlines.

As you said earlier, you won’t need to spend a lot of time in Lausanne. You will do most of the administrative work from Delhi. So have you decided on a transition plan for HI, now that you have decided to resign from all HI posts?

    I don’t have to prepare that, the HI-elected board will do that. There will be a plan, definitely, and I will have to introduce whosoever the new president is and chairman of HIL to the sponsors and franchise owners. He or she will have to go meet them. So there has to be a comfort level and the change should not come as a shock to anyone. I think the maximum it would take is 30-45 days. 

What do you think about the appointment of Elena Norman as the CEO, as the hockey body has never had a CEO? 
   I’ll be honest: You need a CEO if you want to run national-level sports bodies that matters; like hockey, football, boxing, tennis, wrestling, badminton, sports which have medal potentials. You do need professionals over here, who can handle the day-to-day administration. The CEO shouldn’t be some friend of mine or some junior, that’s not the way. Actually, HI is being handled by her, for which I get all the credit, which is unfair. I repeatedly say that, but people still give me credit, what can I do?

The advent of HIL gave domestic hockey the boost it had needed for several years. Before that, Premier Hockey League tried the same but failed. Do you think such tournaments can be organized in smaller countries and will it be feasible or possible for them to succeed at that level?
    I don’t think it is going to be so easy. HIL is a domestic event and the partners that we had in the league have deep pockets. That’s why they are sustaining it. I don’t think all the six franchises have even reached the break-even stage yet, they are all suffering losses. If I had an India development team or India A team or B team, you would have to repeatedly send them out for exposure, to flush the fear of playing at the international level out of their minds. By playing in the league for 30 days, they are playing with the best in the world. 
They train with them, they play with them, and they eat with them. So they get the confidence. I can proudly say that in the Indian men’s side we have hundreds who can replace anybody anytime. And I don’t think FIH can do that for other countries. FIH can only boost international, continental events. The FIH calendar fills up with such events and also has to make room for domestic events like HIL. That is the problem.
Sridhar Venkatesh

Sridhar Venkatesh

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