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FIH Window for Hockey India League: Spirit missin (2/25/2014)
--K. Arumugam
FIH Window for Hockey India League: Spirit missing, coaches culprit

BACKDROP: Right from President to its Competition Committee, CEO Kelly Fairweather, and many cogs in the FIH were present on the other day in Ranchi on the eve of Hero Hockey India League final. Surprisingly, a low rung FIH official was even asked to present a particular award to winners continuously 5,6 times after everyday matches during the closing ceremonies that are telecast live. The moot point here is, whether HHIL is local league or global league. If it is global as the Hockey India projects and envisions, do the mere presence of FIH bandwagon makes it so? Or, are the Globe’s best contemporary players need to have part in the league? Some developments that marked, rather marred HHIL 2014 need to be dwelt with and understood in its entirety for the league's true longevity and meaningfulness. undefined

THE BACKGROUND: When Neo Sports channel launched World Series Hockey three years ago, Hockey India came out with its own version, Hockey India League. It remained on paper even as WSH being head starter had time advantage, went ahead, and hosted with 8 teams on board, title sponsor and six full-pledged Franchises.

The Hockey India lost no time to propose counter effort to WSH, but it said the whole world will descend on its new venture -- to make it truly global, extraordinarily competitive and beneficial to not only Indian hockey but also to global fraternity, but only after one and half years from WSH.

Hockey India Secretary General Narinder Batra’s contemplation had many takers, but this writer argued today’s meal is more important than a feast promised for next year or far later.

Hockey India argued that it doesn’t want to start anything for the heck of it, but on sound footing and on workable long term vision.

It said and reasoned, a window from world body can only work wonders and on sustainable basis. Hockey India heavily relied on FIH Window that will ensure the world’s best players for HIL unlike ‘the unofficial’ and ‘unsanctioned’ WSH where the contemporary world’s best was simply not there.

Ok, the HIL became a reality last year. Both HI and FIH were successful in working out a Window and hold the first edition on a grand scale, with unheard quantum of money handed out to players as a result of path breaking auction and media blitzkrieg.

FIH WINDOW ON PAPER: Only second year on, but the window remained on paper. Its purpose had been challenged. Yes, players from far off countries from Argentina to Africa, New Zealand to Ireland, participated in the just concluded league. However, many contemporary stars -- not the likes of Teun de Nooijers, Luke Doeners, Floris Evers who have all past their prime – especially from Netherlands and Germany in particular are conspicuous for their absence.

The Second HHIL grew in terms of number of teams, number of host cities, level of fee to players etc etc. The quality of telecast surely was the icing on the cake; Star Sports Television’s production quality setting standards for hockey’s nascent broadcast world. undefined

Still, not many lost out some of the undercurrent that marked, or marred, the just concluded HHIL.

The coaches of The Netherlands and Germany in particular have seemingly cautioned their lot against participation. Though many claim they have been asked to take rest, there are bits and pieces of info that trickle that the coaches indicated to unwilling players that their slot in the national team cannot be guaranteed if they prefer HHIL. Perhaps these coaches are concerned on their players getting injured

Before this, there have been reluctance and delay by some -- or the same ? -- National Federations to give No Objection Certificate to their players, creating on its wake a revolt of sort from leading players.

When this writer drew the attention of Kelly Fairweather to this issue, he was at his diplomatic best,saying he had not heard such things, nothing of that sort was brought to his knowledge. He in effect gave an impression that window is practically fine, works.

But certainly this is not the case if what we follow and hear is correct.

As a result of firm 'No' by the coaches,HHIL 2014 had only protagonists like Jaap Stockmann, Moritz Furste, Nicolas Jacobi, who all can take risk on account of their invincibilty to team and star status, leaving enough vacancies that were filled by India from its once WSH discards.

The question here is, if the coaches breach the window, directly or indirectly, whose duty is it to protect players’ interest?

Leondro Negre, FIH president, says the hockey history henceforth will be written before and after Hockey India League, having been enthused by its success and the monies it raked in in the process.

But if the window is not protected by letter and spirit, the HIL will be in danger of losing out, the same way Sultan Azlan Shah is.

Hockey faces the danger of out of Olympics, and there is a need to bring money, market, millions more eyeballs to stands and before television.

Professional coaches in hockey are just by the name sake. Except coaches no one surrounding them, players, administrators, events and like are professional in true spirit.

Coaches perforce pin their career on success at World Cups, Olympics and Continental Championships.

They do not place any importance to other events, leaving them to natural death.

Cases of bringing development or half-baked teams to invitational tournaments, test series etc are innovations of coaches, which perhaps helped them ensure their target tournaments but left hockey fans high and dry quite often.

If hockey has to truly emerge as a vibrant and viable sport, its mindset has to move away from three fixations – Olympics, World Cup and Continental Championships.

Unfortunately, medals at these events can give proud moments to winning nations, but that won’t lift the game and its players from the mould in which they have been cast and stereotyped.

Therefore all innovations, like HHIL, need to be taken up seriously by all stake holders, never downrate on World Cup and Olympic years. Such approach will not help hockey to grow, rise above mediocrity.

Coaches cannot prevent players from earning more money, and if they can challenge the window, as has happened now, leaving players to fight for themselves and take risks of being dropped, the FIH has to exercise its influence, as it had done firmly when the question of WSH confronted them.

FIH’s role will be judged by creating an environ by which every best players gets an opportunity to decide, like whether he wants to play league or HIL, especially when a window has been created. On its part, the HHIL need to advise Franchises to rope in top current coaches like Weiss, Lammers or Van Ass, who delivered result in the last two Olympics, not the ones who delivered some 20,30 years ago. Then the coaches can synchronise and seamlessly evolve strategies.

As of now we see urgency in FIH to be ornamental on dais, even overdose of it, but failed to enforce its window in spirit.

Hockey India may have given an impression that the window works, but if such attitude is going to be the guiding spirit in future, it will have ever-lasting and endangering repercussions.

If hockey players cannot figure in a 'windowed event' for a month in a Olympic or World Cup year, the question of hockey becoming a people’s sport, professionalized, ensuring its steady presence in the Olympics, is reduntant.

For HI’s part it need to prevail on franchise, who opt for foreign coaches that they should choose from successful ones from the 2014 World Cup.

These coaches can take a month break from their NF’s contract and be part of the sensation called HIL.

The same way Walsh was given break by Sports Authority of India, the pay masters.

Otherwise, players will flock to HHIL not because of FIH window but because of its attraction

Time for FIH to think out of box, not bogged down.

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