Sep 28, 2023
Sep 28, 2023
by Anand Philar
It was only a sting, not a bite, and so it might turn out to be as Indian hockey attempts to cleanse itself of scandal and corruption. The Indian Olympic Association-appointed committee of grey-haired Olympians would like the country to believe that it would be so, but beneath the surface, precious little has changed or is likely to.
The dissolution of the Indian Hockey Federation in the wake of the "Chak De" sting operation leading to the resignation of secretary-general K. Jothi Kumaran, has only served to throw the game into more turmoil.
From 1994 to 2008, K. P. S. Gill and Jothi Kumaran ruled Indian hockey with misplaced imperiousness and autocracy reminiscent of the Ashwini Kumar days when one man dictated the course the game would take. Democracy was only in name with the top honchos enjoying the benefits of authority without responsibility or accountability.
The past 14 years has seen Indian hockey slide from bad to worse. The occasional success was merely pyrrhic in the context of the state of affairs. But the IHF cleverly leveraged the odd victory to project an image of glowing health if not wealth.
K. Krishnamurthy, the secretary of the Karnataka State Hockey Association (KSHA), who is now a prime candidate to head not just the ad hoc committee but also the new IHF administration as and when it is installed, believes that the game lacked credible administration.
"The finances are in a mess. There has been no long-term plan in place. Executive committee meetings were more an exception than rule and the selection process lacked credibility. In the process, we invited intervention from the International Hockey Federation which in itself reflected the sorry state of affairs in Indian hockey," he said.
A few years ago, Krishnamurthy, who took voluntary retirement from the Reserve Bank of India as a top-ranking officer to devote more time to hockey, had mustered support as he sought to put Gill in the dock over the IHF's balance sheet, but at the meeting in Hyderabad, he was the lone voice of dissent.
At the moment, there are moves to get the affiliated units together to chart out a plan that envisages fresh elections. "I personally do not mind who is in power so long as they function as per the IHF Constitution. The only way forward, I feel, is to conduct free and fair elections," Krishnamurthy asserted.
Back in 1994, Gill got himself elected under gunpoint at the IHF annual general meeting (AGM) in Bhopal. Money and muscle besides Gill's reputation as the "Super Cop" persuaded the units to vote for him. At that time, few realised the folly of having a police officer as president. Gill virtually ran the IHF like his police precinct with zero tolerance to even well meaning criticism.
In fact, in his very first press conference in New Delhi within a couple of days after his election, Gill showcased his power and authority by having two journalists abducted from the conference venue. The matter was resolved after Gill tendered unconditional apology to the employers of the scribes.
Meanwhile, Jothi Kumaran consolidated his position with his deceptively low-profile style of functioning. Surrounding himself with a coterie that barely saw beyond its collective nose, he revelled in newfound power and position.
At the height of his power, Jothi Kumaran repeatedly interfered in team selection and management. He was involved in the match-fixing scandal with Malaysia during the 1996 Olympic qualifier in Barcelona. The national coaches, who were being hired and fired without thought, were forced to toe the line on pain of a pink slip.
The signs of rot were much in evidence in 1998 when soon after India regained the Asian Games gold medal at Bangkok, six senior players along with the chief coach were thrown out on the pretext of being "rested". Four years later, coach Cedric D'Souza met a similar fate when he was sacked midway through the World Cup.
In 2004, just before the Athens Olympics, the IHF appointed Gerhard Rach, a German with police record as the national coach replacing Rajinder Singh. The players were incensed and felt humiliated to have a coach with no proven professional credentials.
Rach quit soon after the Olympics, publicly abusing the IHF administration on his way out. Strangely, last year, the same Rach coordinated with the same administration to sign up Indian players for various European club teams!
Overall, the Gill-Jothi Kumaran era has been a period of discontentment that surfaced only occasionally. The sponsorship deal with Sahara somewhat eased the situation, but even to date, the extent of sponsorship remains a secret. The IHF has stonewalled queries on the subject with shocking indifference and insolence.
"We just don't know how much money was coming into the IHF coffers, where it was going and how it was being spent. The balance sheet was often distributed just before an AGM and few had the time or inclination to scrutinize the accounts, leave alone ask questions," said Krishnamurthy.
Finally, the lid was blown off in Santiago, Chile, when in March India failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in eight decades. Coach Joaquim Carvalho, who had little love or tolerance for Jothi Kumaran, resigned, but was asked to continue. Then came the sting operation that has had a seismic effect on Indian hockey.
As for the future, much would hinge on the mindset of the new rulers who would need to set aside their personal equations and work as one cohesive unit.
This could well be wishful thinking given the track record of the game that has been more about personalities, be it players or officials, rather than team.
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