To Batra or not to Batra… that is the question

KISS is the way forward for hockey in my opinion. And of course KISS is is the acronym for Keep It Simple Stupid. Because it’s my opinion also we’ve been making things way too complicated these last years… Let me explain. First the boring stuff about the management of our game on federation level and then I go into the sport in a next blog post following one of these days…

FIH president dr. Batra (picture by FIH)

Little over a year ago the FIH elected a new president in Dr. Batra from India and it has plunged our world of hockey in Indian chaos. Which might be nothing uncommon if you’re from those parts of the world, but a lot of hockey is also played in Europe and for example Australia where a more structured approach is appreciated. So please do not take the following remarks and observations as denigrating to India. But understand we “from the west” have other customs and get uncomfortable when we see the way our sport is being managed at the moment.

Who is Batra

First some background about dr. Batra, the current president of the FIH. Prior to his election to the FIH he was only known to the world of hockey as the guy who got Hockey India back up to international standards and who created the HIL or Hockey India League which not only has been instrumental in breathing life back into Indian hockey but has also created a new dimension to the international world of hockey. The HIL had/has added value all across the board, no one will deny. But the ambition of Batra grew. He also wanted a firm grip on international hockey and so he made his move to get elected president of the FIH in november 2016. Batra comes from a wealthy Indian family who own hotels, gas stations, car dealerships, etc… and who is very well connected into Indian politics. He likes to be in firm control in his organisations but obviously has had some difficulties adapting to a different role in an international federation where he also has to deal with other cultures and customs. A role where “his” federation will not cater to his every wish but has got some people with strong visions/opinions that will not always be in line with the vision of dr. Batra himself.

He who follows two hares catches neither…

Several recent events meant different people, actively involved in managing the game of hockey, are getting nervous…

FIH lettre to Batra from Balbirnie
click to enlarge the letter

When dr. Batra also became the president of the Indian Olympic Association doubts were immediately expressed he could combine both high profile political functions. Especially since at some times there could be conflicting interests… I’ve spoken these last couple of weeks and months to several active and former international players, coaches and people in national and international federations from the world of hockey. Former board member of the European Federation, David Balbirnie from Ireland wrote a letter to dr. Batra with cc to the entire FIH executive committee asking him to make a choice between one or the other. Batra himself claimed when elected to his new function he would be able to combine both with the help of his talented teams in both organisations.

However several high ranking directors within the FIH were recently either removed from their post or resigned themselves (read “Who’s right“). When the CEO from FIH, Jason McCracken from New Zealand, also threw in the towel a couple of weeks ago (after only being in function for some 10 months or so) it means trouble…. And one could question if the FIH team with all new faces would be strong enough to guide our sport in these challenging times with only a part time president at the helm. Let’s not forget we’re in the thick of a so called Hockey Revolution which will reshape the world in international hockey and obviously also will have its impact on national leagues around the world. With a very ambitious Hockey Pro League due to launch in less than a year where still a lot is not known, at least not publicly, about both the organisational and financial effects for those concerned. Batra, instead of bringing on board one of his Indian mega sponsors has decided to withdraw his India from the flagship competition, a couple of weeks after the big announcement of the new event. And in its wake also lost the big media sponsor Star Sports who broke off early their 8 year contract with the FIH.

Where are we heading?

So one year in his presidency Batra has lost most of his team at the FIH, the very people who launched the Hockey Revolution he is also preaching. He has not been able to introduce us to the (new) sponsors and partners needed to make a success of the HPL. Withdrew his India from the HPL and lost the media partner for the FIH. With Batra “hiding” in India, where he’s got his stronghold obviously with his Hockey India team, his political network and his sponsor contacts we have not seen anything substantial from Batra since he took office. Since he got a slap on the wrist from his own FIH for some unfortunate comments on social media Bara has gone silent to the world of hockey and seemed to have his focus turned towards his own India once again. But even there his HIL has fallen victim to the new hockey revolution from the FIH.

Anyway…. there is no doubt dr. Batra is a man of vision with a lot of qualities and a lot of love for his India and the game of hockey. However the time has come for him to show the rest of the world where he’s taking us! We’re curious… but also getting somewhat nervous…

So I get back to my opening statement. We need some KISS in hockey! In a couple of days I’ll follow up with another blog post about KISS, keeping it simple stupid is the way forward… Stay tuned 😉