On a day the Indian men's hockey contingent returned home triumphant from China with the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy, the sports administrators pushed the game to the brink of disaster as the international hockey federation (FIH) renewed its threat to strip India of the right to host the Olympic Qualifying Tournament here in February 2012.
With the stakeholders -Hockey India (HI), Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) - unable to settle their differences and set up a unified body to govern the sport in the country even after losing the men's Champions Trophy, the sports ministry officials met senior FIH officials, including president Leandro Negre and CEO Kelly Fairweather, on Tuesday. The FIH top brass told them in unequivocal terms that India would lose the Olympic Qualifiers if the governance issue was not resolved quickly.
“All the meetings were positive but we made it clear that what FIH wants is a single body for hockey in the country,” Fairweather said.
The FIH president also made it clear that it would only recognise Hockey India. "It is up to the government and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to sort out the issue. It has to be done very soon," he said.
Though Negre did not set a deadline, he added, "We will not de-recoginise HI but are looking at some sort of a solution."
The FIH had launched its offensive in the morning itself by issuing a press release announcing Auckland (New Zealand) as the new host of Champions Trophy.
“As part of the move, New Zealand, ranked 7 in the world, will replace India which is ranked 9th in the Champions Trophy. India was originally allotted a place in the Champions Trophy as the host, but has now been extended an invitation to play as the top-seeded team at the Champions Challenge in November in South Africa,” the release said.
Though Negre and Fairweather claimed the Champions Trophy issue was not on the agenda of Tuesday's meeting, the FIH attitude left sports minister, Ajay Maken, furious.
“Where is the need to sit across the table and discuss the issue with the FIH now. The world government body of hockey has already withdrawn the event without even discussing the matters with us,” the minister said.
The minister apprised the FIH chief of the ministry’s need to mediate between the warring hockey bodies. “We told the FIH that the government didn’t intervene in the hockey affairs on its own. The Apex court had directed us to do so. Hence we never had any choice.”
However, the ministry informed the FIH that only one body would represent the country at the international level. “We will discuss the issue with the Indian Olympic Association and both the federations (Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation) before going ahead to talk to the international federation,” said the minister.
But going by the statements by top officials of the FIH, they are not in favour of an umbrella organisation dealing with them while two separate bodies function at the domestic level. They want firm assurances on setting up a unified body at all levels.
It's now for the ministry to work out a new solution.
More than an hour before the scheduled arrival of the hockey contingent, the 'dhol' party had arrived at Gate No. 6 of the Indira Gandhi international airport. “What brings you here,” asked a curious passenger. “Jeet kar aa raha hai hockey wala (the victorious team is coming back),” was the quick reply from a member of the party. “That’s good, the team has started to win again,” said the passenger.
The players arrived soon after, looking a transformed bunch. Perhaps, the triumph had added to their confidence levels.
Excited after leading the team to victory, skipper Rajpal said, “We are back to winning ways.”