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Can India handle its awe and shock therapy (7/9/2017)
--K. Arumugam
EDITORIAL“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.

undefined The above portrayal of Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Tale of Two Cities’ captures aptly the paradox situation in which Hockey India has pressed everyone of us into.

The scenario is still developing.

As of now the Hockey India, unarguably the most affluent constituent of the world body FIH, the unit that has transformed fortunes of hundreds of foreign players through its flagship Hockey India League, has withdrawn both its men and women from what was projected as the ‘revolutionary’ Hockey Pro League. The new league, with FIH ranking points and Olympic qualification inducement, is scheduled to kick off from early 2019.

Missing out from such a major event will have many repercussions for Indian hockey.

Hockey India, otherwise communication friendly, has not spelt out any official reason thereof though some media outlets seemed to have extracted its view points through reliable source /sources.

However, the FIH is prompt: Accepted the National Federation’s decision. It will now follow whatever step is envisaged in the bidding process.

If nothing drastic happens, most likely Malaysia may step in to fill up the vacuum. Its just a wild guess.

Be it as it may.

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The last one month has been quite eventful. Not that HWL SF London was so earthshaking. It was not Rio where lowly dark horse Argentina stunned every powerhouse, but only an established entity in the Dutch that regained its pinnacle.

But the London is now talk of the town simply because India’s emotional steps that transgressed ethical standards on the field first, and then how it responded to an unexpected event that happened off the field.

Indian team members wore black arm band when played against Pakistan ‘as a mark of its Army’s sacrifice’. This is not done. This is not acceptable on sports fields. Honestly speaking not many noticed it till HI sent out a boasting press release!

The FIH President Narindra Batra had apologised, a fine gesture, a magnanimous one at that. The FIH has communicated the apology to all National Federations. (It must have been a bitter bill to swallow for the FIH president, who rode to the chair defeating his rivals lock, stock and barrel barely a year ago.)

The matter, it seems, would not end.

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A day after India-Pak league match, Indian star Sardar Singh was called by the UK police for detailing which involved, according to Indian team manager Jugraj Singh, 11 hours of journey and four hours of enquiry, which made the play maker stiff and rendered ineffective for the next India match it played the next day. It was against the Dutch.

Narinder Batra, not uncharacteristically, poured his emotions in his hugely followed social media channel. He did not fail to mention in the footnote that his post is by a patriotic Indian citizen, obviously to separate it from any post he holds in the FIH or elsewhere.

The nuance obviously would not cut much ice, and it did not. He has been prevailed upon to delete his post. The FIH which he heads, took credit for it and the apology seems inclusive of this brief online outburst too.

Now, the question of what next?

The series of events have left bad taste in the mouth of everyone. Global hockey community is wonder stuck on India’s pointed and loaded accusations. Usage of match fixing word missed the context as the sports world traditionally understands it, and meant something else.

The sudden withdrawal of India from Hockey Pro League cannot be an isolated development against what all transpired in the fortnight prior to it.

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Now that a big decision of this magnitude had been taken, it entails background detailing.

Hockey India is one of the professionally run NFs in the world. Its activities benefited the global hockey brotherhood. Especially, the foreign players in the HIL. Hockey India hosted each year a major FIH event. Each of them -- please remember -- title sponsored by an Indian company. Even the last two London mega events – Champions Trophy 2016 and HWL SF this year – falls under the same. The FIH balance sheet would vouchsafe for the windfall benefits.

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Therefore, neither had FIH done India a favour so far nor India the same to the FIH. Each time a tournament was allotted to India both the host and the parent body benefited commercially.

If the proportion is made known it will lead to wide debate and raised eyebrows.

Some section in India argued for long that India has ‘sold’ itself to the FIH which this writes does not endorse simply because selling and buying is need of the hour, driven by market (TV in particular) forces, at the discretion of the of the NFs concerned.

India has stood by its all commitments to the FIH so far. It organized every allotted event from 2010 World Cup to 2016 Jr World Cup with aplomb. Even it set benchmark for commercial windfalls, if not for hospitality.

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Besides, having been part of financial bonanza of HIL, cream of world hockey talent enjoyed every event that Hockey India hosted.

Having earned so much good will, India could also post its man at the helm of FIH.

It looked logical corollary.

Yes, the series of June-July events doesn’t go well with India’s hard earned name and fame.

Is Sardar Singh issue so serious for a nation so as to go the extent it went now?

Its hard to believe.

Hockey India did not mind when one of its selected team member Harbir Singh was denied visa by UK for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

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Yes, it’s rarest of rare case in the FIH’s competition history that a player from a participating foreign nation was called for such a protracted and painful police inquiry midway through a tournament.

The FIH has informed us that the English Hockey will hold an inquiry.

Having made it an issue and brought it to this level, HI must have felt assuaged.

But the decision to withdraw from HPL is ‘awe and shock’ kind of therapy which nobody wants.

Whatever the subterranean currents that prompted the HI to take the extreme step, the world will see it as a bullying tactic.

The FIH may be brave in its subsequent approach, and appear professional too but only time will tell the extent of impact it will have on the very success of the HPL.

The fact that should not be forgotten is past president of HI is now FIH’s.

Recently, during one of the Nationals this writer toured, an official described Batra’s persona. “You never know what he does, why he does, what he wants till he makes it known on his terms! His arrow doesn't aim target directly.”

Therefore, one never knows what game he or HI is upto.

Whatever, the decision to dispense away from HPL would not have been taken hastily, unstudied or unconcerned, without weighing pros and cons for India. For, what is at stake is Olympic berth.

The key for HPL is revenue, which largely means TV. India certainly holds sway here.

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Meanwhile, this writer found uncharitable comments of knowledgeable writers making India villain of yet to born HPL. And are quick to say the FIH wasted past decade due to symbiotic relationship with India!

Its too early to say anything.

Batra is official guardian of the FIH and the founder of HI & HIL. Being a shrewd businessman and successful sports administrator, he is expected not to cause damage to either: one he heads, one he loves. He loves both power and passion equally. Each drives the other. He will balance. His approach is always unconventional, awe and shock, verbal, sometimes Trump kind, but in the end he will benefit all.

This not just the fond hope, but time tested reality.

He is guardian of HPL and champion of HIL. Both will survive, wait and see.

Otherwise his place in the history will be differently portrayed.

No longer a situation, a perception, a short phase that the FIH is different from its president, is presentable, desirable and workable.

But the question right now is, can India handle its awe and shock therapy?

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