Founded in 1924, the International Hockey Federation was a Europe-centric organisation and remained so for 92 years before the global body decided to bring in a non-European to head it in the winter of 2016.
A century of European monopoly of the position atop the FIH executive was very much on the cards when Spaniard Leandro Negre, a former Olympian goalkeeper, held sway of the body. But Nerge’s re-election for a third term ran into a deadlock over the body’s own rules and suddenly the international federation had to look around for a new president.
Narinder Dhruv Batra, presiding over Hockey India that was recognised as the national federation in India by the FIH through some controversial procedures, was not in the frame when the elections were announced. Even when the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) announced his nomination, Batra was not the front-runner, but he gathered steam quickly to take the pivotal position when the African and Pan-American continental federations joined the Asian block to back his candidature.
In November 2016, Batra’s election to the FIH President’s position came through the first ballot of the FIH elections held in the Emirate of Dubai. Between them, the two other candidates did not have the wholesome support of all those opposed to the Indian candidate.
While Batra polled 68 votes, David Balbirnie of Ireland (29 votes) and Australian Ken Read (13 votes) failed to garner enough votes to take the contest to a second round of voting. The election result highlighted the dramatic shift in India’s position as the commercial hub of international hockey. How things had changed since 2008 when the FIH accepted Hockey India as the new national association for hockey in the country! Hockey India had occupied the space that for long belonged to the Indian Hockey Confederation (IHC) — a move that was thereafter fought in several law courts.
Notwithstanding that it had not clinched a medal at the Olympics or the World Cup since 1980, India’s status had recently grown by leaps and bounds within the FIH simply because of the green-bucks it supplied to the Lausanne-based FIH for running the sport globally. The phenomenal commercial success of the 2010 World Cup had brought about a dramatic change in the FIH’s outlook.
Four years later, India continues to bank-roll the FIH and that is reflected in its position in the official hierarchy. India remains the cornerstone for FIH’s global events and Batra’s leadership keeps getting endorsed, albeit there is evident heartburn among a few European officials. Even in the midst of toasts being raised and exquisite souvenirs being received during the 2018 FIH Congress in New Delhi, The Hockey Insider gauged the resentment at the European delegates’ continental meeting.
After some intermittent arm-flexing primarily by a few European officials in the early part of his Presidential tenure, Batra seems firmly in the saddle as the FIH heads for its quadrennial election this year. Some pensive days followed his emotional outburst (albeit the comments were in an individual capacity) against the British police, which had summoned former Indian captain Sardar Singh to Leeds a day ahead of the India-Pakistan encounter during the 2017 Hockey World League Semi-Finals in London.
The ensuing disciplinary action and censure of Batra by the FIH Board seems to have exposed the FIH boss to public embarrassment, but Batra took it all in his stride and gradually regained his control on the organisation. In the next FIH Congress in New Delhi (2018) a couple of his detractors lost their positions in the Executive Board as Batra’s backers gained ascendency. The Hockey Insider can confirm that FIH Executive Board’s composition is now inclined to support all of Batra’s decisions. This seems to have played a key role in India putting up — and clinching — the bid for the 2023 World Cup that will bring the elite event back to Bhubaneswar. Big bucks, of course, sweetened the Indian bid beyond temptation.
Batra’s rivals seem to have yielded plenty of ground since the last biennial Congress in New Delhi — just ahead of the World Cup in Bhubaneswar that reinforced India’s status as the top-class host with no rivals in putting up a similar show. All this without even considering the financial bonanza India continues to offer to the FIH.
Before allocating the 2020 FIH Election Congress to India, the FIH changed several key rules and incorporated that the country/federation now hosting the FIH Congress will bear the cost of accommodating the delegates, while the FIH will chip in with dollars to buy the air tickets. This decision of the Batra-led Board has placed small FIH member nations at par with the game’s powerhouses. Even if they cannot field teams regularly in competitions, this will ensure their presence in the FIH conclaves. A huge gathering apart, the current leadership will also benefit from the brownie points. With the hosts having to write cheques for hotel rooms for delegates, India’s bid to host the 2020 FIH Congress faced no opposition as one bidder after the other dropped out.
The Hockey Insider has learnt that the European hopes of wresting back the FIH leadership has suffered a big blow with a second successive FIH Congress being allocated to the Indian capital. FIH officials from different continents have told The Hockey Insider that Batra ought to fancy his chances of a unanimous re-election at New Delhi, in November 2020, as the world body’s chief for the next four years. However, a European challenger should not be ruled out, even if the opposition is just symbolic.
The Hockey Insider now finds Batra in the pivotal position with his detractors, who are primarily from Europe, in complete disarray and after failing to come up with a bid to stage the FIH’s election congress.
The Netherlands was being touted as a formidable candidate for the 2020 FIH Congress. With that idea being a non-starter, it reflected the end of European opposition. The scales remain tilted in favour of India’s domination of the FIH for another four-year term.
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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2020 09:59:39 IST