The Indian Olympic Association (IOA)’s suspension of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and its controversial chief, KPS Gill, comes not a moment too soon. The dramatic move follows close on the heels of the IHF secretary K Jyothikumaran’s exit, after a television channel’s sting operation caught him accepting bribes. The Gill-led regime was obviously in denial mode all these years, refusing to read the graffiti on the wall, as Indian hockey sank lower down international ratings. It touched an incredible nadir last March, when the eight-time Olympic champions failed to qualify for the Beijing Games — the first time such an ignominy happened in the last 80 years. No wonder the International Field Hockey Federation (FIH) was even forced to warn the IHF to clean up its act or risk losing the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
The IOA has done the right thing to set up a temporary five-man panel — comprising former greats — to run hockey, in conjunction with the FIH. Given that former Olympians were never asked to overhaul any sport in the country before, this sets a good precedent not only for hockey but for other sports as well. It has been an open secret for long that Indian hockey would never look up as long as non-professionalism marked the over-staffed, under-performing IHF. Deplorably, not a single senior IHF official — including its president, senior vice-president, seven vice-presidents, secretary-general, trea-surer, three joint secretaries and ten members of the executive committee — ever played hockey for India. If anything is more unfortunate, it is the fact that this is also applicable to most other sports organisations. Most sport — other than cricket — in India is trapped in a vicious circle, and the fault for such declining standards has nothing to do with the sportspersons or lack of talent. The blame clearly lies with the administrators and officials who preside over these sports bodies, without any clue about sports management. Thus India didn’t have a synthetic surface till the 1982 Asiad, which robbed the country of precious time as players struggled to get used to the new, fast surfaces.
But there is opportunity in crisis and Indian hockey is facing its biggest crisis now. So this could well be a golden chance for the game in India to reclaim its lost glory, provided the players, the officials, the sponsors, the media, and the government all work sincerely to realise it.