FIH awards row: Indian hockey federation seeks apology from Belgium
The FIH Hockey Stars Awards controversy took a new turn on Wednesday with Hockey India (HI) writing a strongly worded letter to the international hockey federation (FIH) seeking an apology from Hockey Belgium for its criticism after Indian players and coaches swept the accolades.
“We are requesting FIH CEO Mr. Thierry Weil to either kindly request the Belgium federation to issue an official public apology for the demeaning comments on the achievements of the Indian athletes and coaches on social media and if not then refer this matter to the FIH Governance Panel for thorough investigation into what is discrimination/racial discrimination against Indian athletes and coaches,” HI president Gyanendro Ningombam wrote in the letter, accessed by HT.
On October 6, a furore erupted in the hockey world after Indian players and coaches won all the eight awards. Several top players hit out at FIH’s voting system, ridiculing it on social media.
World No.1 and world champions Belgium (they won gold at the Tokyo Olympics with India claiming bronze) represented by their federation expressed disappointment over the “failure of the voting system” after none of their players won any award despite the Tokyo triumph. “This is not normal! The credibility and image of our sport is once again facing hard times. It’s a pity,” said the tweet on the Belgium team handle.
The HI statement said: “We believe that the public statements of displeasure at the announcement of the Indian winners is highly disrespectful and not in the spirit of sportsmanship. Hockey India made great efforts to ensure good participation across all categories from our country and now feel publicly penalised for the full-hearted participation and support of the Indian nominees.”
Though the FIH awards were established in 1998, India won for the first time only last year, in three of the eight categories.
“It is disappointing that the Belgium federation would prefer to question the voting system and the legitimacy of the Indian winners than actually take responsibility for not encouraging more voting and supporting their athletes in the first place. The core of the matter is that these national associations need to first introspect to see their actual level of participation and interest right from the start instead of now questioning the system once results are announced not in their favour,” wrote Ningombam.
For the awards, 50% of the votes come from national associations—represented by captains and coaches, 25% from media and 25% from fans and players. Significantly, only 79 of the 138 national bodies voted—Africa (11 voted out of 25), Europe (19 out of 42), Oceania (3 out of 8) and Pan America (17 out of 30). Asia (29 out of 33) had the best percentage.
“It is shameful in contrast that the European Hockey Federation (EHF) is sitting quiet and not taking responsibility for the lack of activation and seriousness in voting by their Member Associations while also allowing their athletes and Member Associations undermine the results and showing disrespect to the winners. Indian athletes have legitimately won the polls yet the shine of winning has been totally undermined by such negative comments by fellow athletes and National Associations. Is it fair that these athletes are being put through such harassment and mental intimidation?” Ningombam’s statement said.
“The objections on behalf of the Belgium federation need to be carefully examined by the FIH Governance Panel for what is considered by myself as a case of discrimination/racial discrimination, and how humiliating, mentally traumatic and insulting it is to the Indian athletes and coaches. Hockey India cannot stand by and allow the efforts and achievements of the Indian athletes and coaches to be questioned in this manner.”
There were reports that the votes of a record 300,000 fans—a large chunk from the Indian subcontinent—could have helped the Indian nominees win, especially in the euphoria following the Olympics. FIH CEO Weil though said on Monday that the winners would have remained the same even without the votes of the fans. He has said FIH is likely to create a task force to look into the awards system.