Joginder Singh is not just another NRI hockey fan. Since the 1982 Bombay World Cup, Joginder, a Schweinfurt (Germany)-based doctor, has been volunteering for sports medicine services with the Indian team.
During the World Cup here, he was the official Indian team doctor, and his experiences left him bitter. He complained he was abused by the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) secretary K. Jothikumaran. His fault? He had asked Jothikumaran why he had not been present at the stadium the previous day. According to Joginder, he wanted to discuss certain issues about the team and initiated a dialogue with the secretary.
“But he (Jothikumaran) took offence at it and started abusing me and asked what authority I had to question him,” Joginder says. “He said he did not need to watch matches to understand the game. I was stunned. I have spent my vacations with the team rather than with my family. Incidents like these hurt me.”
Not many would know that Joginder had shared the cost of shoes for the Indian team with former IHF president Ashwini Kumar at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Jothikumaran can offend hockey lovers like Joginder and easily get away with it: Having remained in power for long — unquestioned and unaccountable — he has a false sense of importance about himself.
Jothikumaran can fly to Germany, stay for a day or two and then quietly disappear when the team is not winning. And he is not alone in this. Even team manager SP Das left Germany after five matches on the pretext that a relative of his was ill.
These officials cannot see the Indian team lose and flee the scene as soon as they can. And that leaves two willing puppets — coach Vasudevan Baskran and deputy Harendra Singh — to face the struggle. They also do not come clean with the problems they face. But nothing could be hidden as events unfolded in Monchegladbach.
While IHF officials like Jothikumaran and Das waste money on free trips, the team lacks modern training facilities. Just providing the team kits on the eve of departure would not do. Consider this: When coach Baskaran was asked for his opinion on disallowing a penalty-corner even before the shot was taken — the ball was stopped inside the circle, which is not permitted — he claimed he could not spot exactly where the ball was stopped.
A coach cannot monitor everything that happens on field. He needs live inputs from the support staff, and that is why the support teams of leading outfits like Spain, Germany and Australia are so big — as large as the playing 16.
On another occasion, a foreign journalist asked Baskaran: “What’s your advice to your goalkeeper coaches to avoid easy field goals? Also, almost all penalty-corners are converted!” Baskaran evaded a direct reply.
The world over, deputy coaches analyse the game sector-wise — defence, midfield, attack and goalkeeping. The video analyst, himself a half-coach, has an array of simulation software for analysis. In fact, the chief coach is like an off-field captain who commands a full team of staff to help the playing eleven.
Spain’s coach Maurits Hendriks castigated organisers here on being denied accreditation to some of his deputies — and that was after Spain got nine accreditations! The moot point is why do former Olympians like Baskran take up the coach’s job again and again in the absence of a proper modern training environment? Are they so ignorant about modern hockey? What forces them to suffer in silence?
Finishing 11th at the World Cup is unacceptable — the fourth World Cup disaster under KPS Gill. He should not be allowed to find a scapegoat. We have seen the cycle repeat itself. Under Gill, Indian hockey has hit a new low and his federation has ignored hockey at the grassroots.
Baskaran too deserves no sympathy. The player base and their ability have plummeted to abysmal depths. Due to misdirected, short-term policies, so many players have represented the country that playing for India seems too easy.
Gill’s secretary habitually interferes with technical matters and that makes things worse. And whoever becomes the coach faces a terrible time.
It’s because of Jothikumaran’s tantrums that both Rajinders — Senior and Junior — apparently left the job without completing their assignments. The shock and humiliation Indian hockey suffered in Monchenglabach is due to misplaced priorities, short-term coaches, a Stone Age support system and lack of vision.
Until the leadership changes, nothing will improve. Time has come for the nation to decide whether they want Gill and Jothikumaran — or hockey.
(K Arumugam is a hockey analyst, writer and editor of the Hockey Year Book.)