Coudron challenges Batra
Marc Coudron launched his bid for the FIH presidency mid March 2021. For a long time it seemed Narinder Batra would run unopposed for reelection, before Coudron said he wanted a change. Which means the FIH global congress will have to make an important decision on May 22. Because, even though Coudron is too much of a gentleman and diplomat, with only kind words for the sitting president, they do have a very different view on the way hockey should move forward. And hockey is very much at a crossroads.
In a nutshell…
The focus for Batra is on growing the global fanbase. The focus for Coudron is on growing the playerbase. Mind you, this is my analysis from these men and mine alone. Not an official viewpoint from either candidate.
From dreams to plans & to do’s
My dream for hockey worldwide, Coudron said, is actually the same I had 16 years ago for hockey in Belgium. Give a possibility to every young girl and every young boy, all over the world, to play hockey with good equipment, good coaches on a good surface. Where coaches pass on the values of hockey.
As adults we have the responsibility to pass on the baton to the youth. These are the common values we share with all of society, not just hockey, not just sports. These values include respect, teamspirit, fair play, integrity, conviviality, tolerance, inclusion,…
Talking about the plans Coudron indicated he would be 100% dedicated to hockey. Yes, he still has a normal job (Coudron is a banker) and yes obviously he still has a family life as well. But he would stop all other extracurricular activities. Such as his role within the Belgian federation and also his function as treasurer and executive member for the Belgian Olympic Committee. For me, Coudron said, it’s normal the role of heading up the FIH requires total dedication.
Secondly, without blaming anyone or anything, we cannot deny the finances of the FIH today aren’t good. Finding the right and sustainable solutions to fix our financial situation is the priority.
Governance would be a third aspect. Among the values discussed earlier are integrity and transparency. Within a few years the FIH should be the role model for good governance in the world of sports.
Last but certainly not least, the focus on the development of hockey throughout the world. We invest a lot these days in events like the FIH Pro League. But that’s just for the top 10 nations. The FIH should be about all of its members, some 140 nations today. There is a need to invest in events like the Pro League, but we should not forget the rest. So the main focus for FIH should be on development for the second tier nations and third tier nations. Coudron wants to be able to say in a few years the gap between the top and second tier nations has diminished. But also that third tier nations have moved closer to the second tier nations. We have to bridge the gap between the top 10 and the other 130 nations in FIH to make hockey grow.
On my to do list, according to Coudron, the biggest task is listening to all different nations in our hockey family. To learn about their expectations. I’m just at the beginning of this task but already I’ve learned so much. Such as for example the importance of indoor hockey for the development of our sport in Africa. They have a lot more access to these kinds of facilities compared to full artificial pitches for example. We also have 3 formats of the game with 11-a-side hockey, indoor and hockey5s. Some countries would opt for 5s or indoor, while others would focus on 11-a-side. Some might even combine all three. Whatever works best for them to develop hockey in their country.
Solving the financial issues would also be high on his to do list. Coudron claims this would be solved in just a couple of months because obviously he would not have to start from scratch. The FIH administration is already working on possible solutions to fix the financial problems we have today. He would build upon that and from his own experience in the financial world to make sure the current problems due to the launch of the Pro League and the pandemic are dealt with swiftly.
Fixing the basis for good governance should also be a quick fix, he thinks. But the work on development would be one without end. The potential for development is still huge. With the pandemic we’ve learned we can do a lot through webinars, but these are mostly conducted in English still today. Coudron would like to see these in French, Spanish, Russian or the Arab languages as well… We should find more financial resources to make these developments possible in the short term.
Coming back to the finances and what needs fixing there, Coudron told us: I’m not the man who focuses on cutting costs immediately. I would first do a thorough analysis of the situation. Players tell me they love the basic concept of the Pro League, the product in itself is a good one. But we may have to adapt and tweak both existing broadcasting deals and the format of the event. Maybe the nations who can not carry the cost themselves for this event should take a step back.
For Coudron it’s not only about the audience, or only about the players. Of course you need to grow the audience to bring in sponsors for example, but if you first grow your number of players, the audience will follow. But it all starts by listening to the different nations. Coudron does not want the FIH to change the way the game is played in different countries. It will not be a one size fits all approach around the world. We are too different all around the world and we need to respect these differences and each other’s culture.
He would like to insist more on the 3 products hockey has on offer for countries to choose the best way to develop hockey in their part of the world. Each country will have to find their own specific solutions to get people to play the sport and to keep people in the sport as a player for most of their life. Every country has its challenges and the FIH will not have one global solution. Coudron says he does not have the solution to help all nations, but he will start by listening and help them find their solution. Because he has proven he knows how to grow hockey in his Belgium, but understands not all will benefit from the exact same approach.
Impossible is temporary
The number one lesson for Coudron has been to surround him with better and more intelligent people than himself. “I’m good with the confrontation of ideas, not the confrontation of persons.” It’s like being on a hockey team. Even if you’re a good player yourself you need other qualities around you to make it work.
Coudron is very proud he had a part in changing the former Belgian mentality of just being happy to participate without too much expectations to a more ambitious mindset and self belief. The famous quote by Muhammed Ali “Impossible is temporary” is always top of mind for Coudron. So he wants to help build this belief in the so-called “smaller” hockey nations to dream big. Why would it not be possible for Iran to become world champion indoor or Namibia world champion in 5s? The same way Belgium build their confidence to grow from a smaller hockey nation to become the reigning world champion. It’s never an easy path and might take time but impossible is temporary. The same way Coudron and his team grew the Belgian hockey in numbers and results he believes the potential for hockey around the world is huge. It is within reach to have more players, better coaches, good infrastructure…
The goal for FIH should be to expand the top events in all three products. The goal is a world cup in all disciplines with 24 nations competing at the top. We have to make room for new nations at the top. Even though today a country like for example Croatia will gain nothing from playing a top nation like Australia. But in just a couple of years they might be even contenders in for example hockey 5s and, why not, later on in 11-a-side hockey as well? We need to establish an environment in which the 3 products (11-a-side, 5s and indoor) reinforce each other to help grow the sport. In order to do that we need to have a lot more nations playing at top level. The dream is to get more formats from our game of hockey at the Olympics. But maybe the way to go is to merge 5s and indoor hockey. All options should remain on the table. No door is closed.
Threat of getting kicked from the Olympics?
Very important will also be the development away from waterbased pitches. The FIH needs to work together on the dream of a surface without any water. Coudron sees possibilities if the FIH would work together with football and rugby federations to convince manufacturers of artificial pitches to find a solution that works for all. Now is the time to make big strides in these areas but it will need cooperation between different sports to make this happen. No empty promises or unrealistic deadlines. Just the strong desire and drive to make this happen as soon as possible.
Whatever the situation today when the next Youth Olympic Games would take place in Africa or even the 2028 Games in LA we need to make sure we have a solution for a surface that does not need any water to play the game we all love. It’s a must for remaining a relevant member of the Olympic family. Because that position is under threat. The IOC is pushing hard towards sports that can offer more events, with more medals in a shorter time and with less resources needed. Resources being the number of athletes taking up space in the Olympic Village, but also scarce water resources
However Coudron tries to reassure, we also have a lot of strong points as a sport to convince the IOC of our worth. We are one of few sports where top nations come from all 5 continents and probably the only sport where all 5 continents have nations in the global top 15 for both men and women. Not many sports can boast gender equality on the field as well as in the boardroom. We are one of few sports with no doping or betting scandals. Maybe we don’t insist enough on those qualities? It’s not about getting in a competition with other sports. But we are who we are and we have certain qualities that should matter. For example our focus on inclusion and looking beyond just hockey, it would be the ultimate dream for me to see the Olympic Games merge with what we today know as the Paralympic Games and have just one event: thé Olympic Games… for all athletes who excel in their discipline.
Stress between domestic and international leagues
We should not exaggerate the problems here Coudron claims. The only stress is between international hockey and the top leagues in certain nations. Recreational hockey is not affected as much by this. But at the top level we need better solutions. Maybe a first step would be for all European nations to get a coordinated calendar for their domestic leagues? Not an easy task with different climates and cultures either. The mistake made by many administrators outside of Europe is to claim this is just a European problem. Not true according to Coudron, since many players from Australia, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand,… also play and make their money in these domestic leagues in Europe. So it has an impact on all of us. But the ideal solution does not exist. It’s been on the agenda for many years without a solution so far. Maybe the only way is to get a fixed calendar where all know beforehand what weeks would be set aside for international games and the domestic leagues have to finetune their own calendars according to this.
Different countries will all have their different pathways into hockey. For some it starts as a leisure activity, for others it’s a way to get an education at school and for others they hope to make a living from it. But what top hockey players today earn during their career will never be enough to sit back and relax for the rest of their lives once their playing days are over. We are not football, cricket, rugby or basketball… and even in those sports it’s only the happy few, the 1%, who make enough. So playing in hockey would always need to be combined with a preparation for the career after your playing days. It’s not possible for anyone in the world today to make enough money from hockey to be able not to worry for what comes after your playing days. But that’s a good thing according to Coudron. It’s not about the money. It’s about a passion for the sport.
Why should 140 very different countries choose Marc Coudron to become their president?
“I’m very motivated to achieve some goals. I will be 100% dedicated to this function. I’m sure we are just at the beginning of a huge development. Within 10 years there should be less difference between the level of first tier and second countries and between second and third tier countries. To have a lot more hockey nations with a possibility to play world cups, to reach the Olympic Games. Why not in the 3 formats, but certainly in one of these with 11-a-side hockey. Impossible is temporary, really!
So how about Mr. Batra?
We reached out to Mr. Batra as well to talk about his plans for hockey. But when we, at his request sent him our questions (the same we used for Coudron) prior to setting a date for the interview, we never heard back. We haven’t heard back from Batra, nor has the world of hockey in his years as FIH president I might add. Apart from the occasional irrelevant short promo video on the FIH site no actual and meaningful accomplishments in line with earlier promises were reported, as far as I know. We already wrote, following the last FIH global congress, we liked some of the plans. And some we did not like at all, but the proof of the pudding was always going to be in the eating. The promises made by Batra (see video here starting at 12:08) regarding his own contribution back then were simple: increase revenue for FIH, increase reach for hockey around the world, make hockey a viable career choice for players around the world. I would like you to judge for yourself if you can find any proof of making good on any of these promises. I have found none…
One promise from the full video was clearly made in bad faith, would be my assessment. If you scroll to 08:54 in this video he’s asked if he sees his FIH presidency as a step towards other functions with IOA or the IOC. He categorically denies this (“For me it’s hockey, hockey, hockey and that’s it“). Within a year or so the promise was broken and all of Batra’s focus shifted to the IOA. He never looked back at hockey…