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Vriesman: I will consider it personal failure if I (4/30/2008)
When I met Els van Breda Vriesman in Kazan, Russia, on the penultimate day of the Women’s Olympic Qualifier, she looked very much disturbed. Willing to speak on every issue that the FIH has with the Indian Hockey Federation, she quite often wondered why the FIH help is systematically spurned. She did not mince words, and called spade a spade. Having known her suave and diplomatic nuances, I was surprised at her forthright views on sting and the repercussions thereof. In the 45 minutes exclusive interview, she firmly said that if Indian hockey does not come up she would consider it a personal failure. I don’t think India will never have a FIH president who is committed to the welfare of Indian hockey. Excerpts of the interview:

Why in the first place Promoting Indian Hockey Project was conceived?
Hockey is still meant to be a national sport of India. We in the FIH sees a national sport is going down and found nothing was done to arrest that. We thought at least we can help, or at least we can offer help. It is not accepted.

What is the status of the project now?
Whatever is agreed is not followed. Bob Davidzon (project manager) has produced a strategic and operational plan. Objectives are not meet. This has taken too long. We have a Memorandum of Understanding (signed between FIH and IHF), it is linked to Promoting Indian Hockey Project. FIH has a right to terminate the MOU (or WC) because they (IHC) are not interested.

If nothing goes well, will it be a setback for you?
We have done lot of time and money. We got Richard Charlesworth involved in India as Technical Director responsible of national teams of India. The golden opportunity is not taken up by the Indian Hockey Confederation. Quite frankly, if we offer such an opportunity, every country in the world will be envious to have a person like Richard working with them. He has not got full opportunity to work. There are many obstructions for him to do the job he is engaged for.

Where exactly the things got stuck up?
It is a matter of executing a contract

We were told the contract is executed?
Already six months, how much we can wait? How much patience you are expected from us?

Why is the Indian Hockey Federation reluctant to avail the Project or services of Ric Charlesworth?
I don’t know. I cannot understand I am at loss I don’t have any animosity between me and the IHC. We signed the project. I wish anybody could explain us.

How much time now the Indian Hockey Federation has to implement the Project?
Deadline already passed. We give Gill more time for not just explanation, but offer clear solution. He knows exactly himself what he has to do.

Is the World Cup venue change is because of not getting sponsorship or because of IHF’s inability to implement the Project?
Sponsorship lined up to jump in. If the project is not going to happen, sponsors not going to sign. Because, they are interested in the project more than in the World Cup. Because, they like a social responsibility to get Indian hockey to come on the feet again.

What will be your comment if the World Cup has to move out of India?
It would be such a pity if it (World Cup) is not going to happen. Because, we lose sponsorship which is for the benefit of Indian hockey, not for the benefit of the FIH. Yet we find nearly impossible (problems) to tackle.

What is the reaction of others in the FIH, and also why a country like India which is world no 6 or 8 needs to be helped?
In the Executive Board all like me are completely amazed it is happening this way. We offer big help that is not taken. They (IHC) reluctantly co-operate. Certainly, people are not jealous in FIH they want India to come up.

Recently coach Carvalho has castigated umpiring at Chile.
We have asked official explanation. We have got the official reply also They told somebody wrote on coaches’ behalf. We have to believe him if this is the case.

He also said the FIH conspired against India?
I cannot again understand when we are doing everything to help Indian hockey, why do we conspire. We would have been delighted if Indian qualified, but I complement Great Britain for their performance. Coach should be careful, if we ever find him at fault, he might have to face the provisions of Code of Conduct.

Whatever Carvalho said was in television interviews, telecast nationally?
He says he has not written it. We are not going to investigate the matter officially. We will have to trust people. We will keep an eye on him in future.

Even KPS Gill said in television interviews that because of umpiring we lost in three Olympics?
I think Indian hockey should be wise to look into themselves, not to the umpires. We are well respected in the International Olympic Committee, we have very good technical people. Every umpire can commit a mistake, and it cannot be only India was affected by it. India have to look at themselves for the downfall.

Do you know the sting thing going on in India and the Secretary has also resigned?
I don’t know if he has resigned. It is not clear to me. I don’t know.

Have you ever heard of sting and an official accepting money for taking a player into the national team?
No. No. this is new in field hockey world. I hope the sport get positive publicity, not this kind. We are in touch with the International Olympic Committee, Indian Olympic Association, on how to proceed in such situation if the allegations are true. The IOA has to take action. In the meantime even if proven not true, the IHC has to be managed. The IOA has to find a solution how to properly manage the IHC because I don’t think we can work with half-suspended Secretary General, and a president who is probably linked because he protects his secretary in this case. You cannot work with a confederation who is not managed at the moment, who is under investigation under doubt.
The issue at the moment at the table of Confederation are so important, Promoting Indian Hockey Project, World Cup etc. Decisions have to be taken within 14 days. And who is going to take such a decision in India? It is upto IOA or Sports ministry to handle it, not up to us.

What is the feedback you got from the IOA?
They told they have a meeting on next Monday. We will get clear idea how the IOA is going to handle this issue. Because it is for them or the government to do. I am I am not asking any replacement. In India the federation, the real hockey people knew the feeling the FIH has for the Indian hockey. I will never say anything to insult Indian Hockey Confederation. I am there only to help them.

If the Project does not shape up, how will you react?
In my term of office I am determined to help Indian hockey to former glory. I will consider it personal failure if I was not successful in this. I would not know what more we cold have done to make this happen

Why things are not moving?
Nobody can explain to me. It has to come from inside India, there must be enough people in India who have such a passion for India like I have that they should force a change. Hockey lovers and Indian administration should find right way for change. Change I mean I am not chasing away the administration, what we want is proper functioning of the IHC, we want to revive the game. You don’t say no. You just don’t do anything. Saying yes then not doing it is worst because we expect something is happening. At least you say no, we go to Pakistan, to Bangladesh, China to help. Because you said yes we came, now we are stuck.

If the World Cup venue has to be changed from India, will that be handled properly given short time available?
We have called for bids. We have enough staff to handle we will manage. That am sure. In the FIH itself lot of people look at me personally say, Els, you are responsible for this mess. You have told this is possible in India. You told this should happen. This is a personal failure, how should I put it, I really I stuck my neck out to achieve this.

What’s your take on Charlesworth in India?
FIH is paying the coach 60 or 40 percent whatever. Indian sports ministry is not recognizing he is working since November last year. Now the contract is signed in March. Gill personally wrote to us that he would pay this amount of money. But uptill now we did not get even 20 percent. It is a bad situation. We cannot expect a staff member pay advances and not to get repaid. It is just beyond my belief that he is nearly the best person in the world and accepting all this, still sticking to it because he promised FIH to do this. There might be a moment he says it can be sooner later it is finished for me, I can find a better place tomorrow. He has not said so far but it is only weeks or months. You cannot expect best person, somebody of his personality, ability and knowledge are not be rewarded, not even recognized. Because, at the moment he should be coaching the men’s team.

What is your final message to India?
Please accept the help the world hockey is offering. Please co-operate with good friendly intentions we have in the benefit of Indian hockey. Everybody loves Indian hockey and they we want to see Indian hockey comes back to its significant place in the world.

Note: A part of the interview was published in the Hindustan Times last week

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