Batra can make world hockey big and popular (Column: Just Sport)

Narinder Dhruv Batra planned it all, to the last detail, to become the President of the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Once he has announced his candidature anyone who knew him from close quarters wagered on his victory.

Yet, not many thought he would be in such a hurry to get a world leader, many in Indian sports officialdom thought he was gunning for the mantle of Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

Imagine, barely three years ago he was fighting a legal battle with the erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation, headed by Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, in the Supreme Court. He revolted against him resenting his mismanagement.

Hearing the case, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Tirath Singh Thakur (now the Chief Justice of India) and Justice Jasti Chelameswar came down heavily on politicians and businessmen heading sports bodies, saying they are causing great harm to the sport.

They were particularly incensed at the abysmally low standard of hockey in the country and wanted the sport to be left to the sportsmen to run.

If the bench has to revisit the judgment, the two learned judges might change their opinion about Indian hockey and Batra.

Batra is a big businessman and close to some most powerful politicians, a confidante to an influential Union minister.

Justice Thakur may even quip that he, too, played hockey like he said when he was told that Anurag Thakur played first-class cricket, that he too played cricket in the Judges vs Supreme Court Bar matches!

In Batra’s own words he was immensely passionate about hockey and that’s why he quit cricket administration, as treasurer of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), his tenure coinciding with that of its president and a close friend Arun Jaitley.

The subsequent events clearly prove that Batra is indeed a hockey buff. His business acumen has helped Hockey India promote the national team to rise to the number six in the world from a double-digit ranking.

The votes he polled or the margin of his victory at the FIH meeting last Saturday in Dubai is now immaterial. What is relevant is that he had mustered more votes to cause the biggest upset to shift the seat of world hockey from Europe to Asia, to be precise to India.

Ken Read of Australia was the favourite, though Irish David Balbirnie threw his hat in to benefit from a vote split. None of that happened as Batra emerged a clear winner.

Interestingly, the man from Jammu got support from across the border, the Pakistanis apparently tried to muster support for Batra in the 21-member House.

With all the 31 members in the Asian region coming on board and a majority of the African and Latin American members backing him, it became easy for the “newest hockey administrator and the weakest of the three candidates,” as Batra put it, leaving the European nations out in the cold.

Batra’s modesty apart, many in the world body knew the importance of the man and his ability to turn things around.

In the last three-four years, India has become the hub of international hockey, bailing the world body by volunteering to host key competitions.

Hockey world has recognised Batra as a dynamic organiser and if he is projected as such it is because he has also made sure the Indian team no longer languished in obscurity.

It would not have been easy to end the domination of a continent for close to a century. For 92 years, even when the Indian team dominated on the field, there was no voice for it in the board room.

Rules were framed ignoring the Asian countries and at times making it appear as if the new regulations will help countries like India and Pakistan.

One big difference between Batra and his predecessors is that he is not bogged down to protecting only his turf at home, he is ambitious and wants to promote hockey as global sport in a big way.

Batra has not talked of any big bang plans or reforms after his election. He has a simple mantra, he wants the sport to be popular and accessible across the globe.

He says he wants 20-25 international teams of some standard instead of 10 or so and he wants to carry the sport to Africa by creating infrastructure. He knows Kenya and Egypt were good hockey nations once upon a time.

In India, every kid is given a cricket bat first, but Batra wants it to be hockey stick, not only here but in all the hockey-playing nations.

All those who have followed Batra’s working style, think he has it him to make hockey truly big and popular.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and opinions expressed here are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)

–IANS

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