You don’t want FIH awards to be a popularity contest: ex-Belgium coach McLeod
- A two-time previous winner of the honour, McLeod finished second to Reid despite making Belgium the world No.1 team, winning silver in Rio 2016, the 2018 World Cup, the 2020-21 Pro League and the Tokyo Olympics gold.
Shortly after Graham Reid was named the FIH Coach of the Year on Wednesday, Shane McLeod sent the India chief coach a text, congratulating him.
A two-time previous winner of the honour, McLeod finished second to Reid despite making Belgium the world No.1 team, winning silver in Rio 2016, the 2018 World Cup, the 2020-21 Pro League and the Tokyo Olympics gold. “I congratulated Graham because I understand it is quite an achievement for the Indian side to medal (at the Olympics) after 41 years. He has done a good job,” said McLeod over a call from Tauranga, New Zealand, where he is holidaying with family.
The 53-year-old New Zealander, who stepped down as Belgium coach after Tokyo to take a sabbatical, also spoke about India sweeping all eight FIH Hockey Stars Awards.
Hockey Belgium had conveyed its displeasure through a tweet and was supported by their players. The criticism wasn’t restricted to them. While congratulating the Indian winners, top players hit out at FIH’s voting system on social media. Germany captain Tobias Hauke called the awards “ridiculous”, Tokyo gold medallist Victor Wegnez said it was a “joke”, two-time World Cup winner Kieran Govers of Australia said, “April fools in October?”, Belgian Florent van Aubel joked, “Congrats India on winning the World Cup 2023” and drag-flick legend and Rio 2016 champion Gonzalo Peillat said that the process and system was wrong and unprofessional.
“Look I can understand the disappointment and frustration. If you flipped it around and India won the gold medal, men or women, and didn’t receive any award there would be an outrage. None of that takes away from the people who have won from India. But the system needs to be looked at because it’s not transparent enough in regard to ‘are the best players and goalkeepers getting the recognition they possibly deserve?’” said McLeod.
“The awards have always been incredibly prestigious with fantastic past winners. It’s really treasured. That’s why few past winners have reacted a little bit because they want the tradition of the correct outcome rather than a process that may not always bring forward the right people.”
The furore on social media prompted FIH to issue another statement, clarifying that the voting process had been communicated beforehand and that it would conduct a review and “make adjustments wherever deemed necessary”. To that McLeod said: “I don’t think you can go back on the result. It has gone through a process and they have announced the winners. It is almost impossible to go back. I don’t think anyone wants that.”
Asked about the controversy at a virtual presser on Thursday, Reid said: “Look, coaches and players have nothing to do with how things are chosen or the system. We just go out there and play our best. It is recognition of the sacrifices and the work put in by this team, including the support staff.”
Since it began in 1998 no Indian had won an award until last year when men’s team skipper Manpreet Singh was voted Player of the Year while Vivek Sagar Prasad (men) and Lalremsiami (women) took home the Rising Star prize. Though some questions were raised, there was no controversy.
“I don’t think anyone expected India to win all the awards, that’s where it doesn’t look good. I would suggest that India as a whole will feel a little embarrassed about this situation. Our two teams (India and Belgium) get on incredibly well; they have a lot of mutual respect. They have nothing against the winners. It is more the system and structure that doesn’t help,” said McLeod, who has also coached New Zealand.
Like Reid, India women’s team coach Sjoerd Marijne, who stepped down after guiding the team to fourth, was picked over three-time winner Alyson Annan. The Australian, who won gold as a player at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, is the first person to have won the yellow metal as player and coach after the Dutch won the women’s team gold in Tokyo.
“Some stories go missing when one country takes all the prizes. That is a story that should be celebrated which will now go missed. For sure Sjoerd did a fantastic job in bringing India to No.4 at Olympics but you do question: which is the more spectacular achievement?” said McLeod.
In the awards voting system 50% weightage is given to national associations—represented by captains and coaches— 25% to the media and 25% to fans and players. Votes of a record 300,000 fans—a large chunk from the Indian subcontinent—could have tilted the awards in favour of Indian nominees especially after the euphoria after the Olympics.
“There were a lot of people who voted and there was a lot of interest around the nominees. That is very good for our sport. But you don’t necessarily want it to be a popularity contest. You want the people that are best for the particular year for the trophy. That is where the system falls down a little bit,” said McLeod.