March 13, 2008

KPS Nero still fiddling as Indian hockey is reduced to ashes

By H Natarajan

If the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) chief was a corporate CEO, his head would have long rolled. Yet, KPS Gill remains immune to any kind of accountability as Indian hockey hurtled from the vertiginous heights to state of rigor mortis in the South American soil of Chile. Gill remains impassive and remorseless as the grandeur of the once great hockey nation has been systematically reduced to ruins under his leadership.

For the first time in 80 years, the Indian men’s hockey will have no place at the Olympics; it’s like the FIFA World Cup without Brazil. The coup de grace came at Santiago on Sunday when Great Britain inflicted a 0-2 defeat on the eight-time Olympic champions.

India’s erstwhile hegemony, like the Brazilians in football, was crafted by mesmeric skills. And it’s this hypnotic play that saw India’s beaten just once in Olympics between 1928 and 1964 during which it won seven gold medals – including six in a row - and a silver medal.

Sadly, the disaster at Santiago was not unexpected. After bronze in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, India finished seventh at the 1976 Montreal Games. Since then it has been a steady decline, barring the 1980 Olympics where boycotts by major sporting powers had reduced the hockey field to just six. India’s downhill roster since then reads: fifth in 1984, sixth in 1988, seventh in 1992, eighth in 1996, seventh in 2000 and 2004 and now failing to qualify for the Beijing Games later this year. The last major indication of the country waning powers in the game came last year when for the first time in Asian Games history it failed to win a medal, finishing a disappointing fifth.

Under the autocratic regime of the Gill, things have gone from bad to worse. The 14 long years that Gill has been at the helm of the IHF has been one of sustained pain for both administrators and players. That the Indian team had 15 coaches in the last 10 years is indicative of how unsettled the side has been for a long time. Players of the highest caliber have been victims of Gill’s authoritarian rule and its no surprise that many of the legendary names in Indian hockey like Dhanraj Pillai, Mohammad Shahid and Pargat Singh, to name just a few, have been vocal in calling for the sacking of the IHF supremo.

That the overwhelming majority of the countrymen are not critical of the players in what is clearly the darkest hour in Indian hockey is a pointer to the fact that Gill is seen as the biggest culprit for the mess.

How can the IHF function effectively when two of its key men - Gill and Jyothikumaran, the IHF Secretary General - are not on talking terms?

While the FIH, the governing body for hockey worldwide, has been swift to react to India’s loss and made public their moves to help regain India’s lost glory, Gill has been the archetypal Nero. His reaction following India’s inglorious exit was typical and expected: “We do not have an instant coffee machine that you can get results instantly. It takes time to regain your position. We have put the process in place and the results will take some time,” he said without any sense of regret.

And even as resignations lay in rubble – among which are that of team coach Joaquim Carvalho, assistant coaches Mohinder Pal Singh and Ramesh Parameswaran, IHF vice president Narendra Batra – Gill remained imperiously glued to his chair.

Ric Charlesworth, who was reduced to helplessly bide his time at home when he could have been of huge value to the team at Chile, is widely seen as the man who could take over as the chief coach. But the legendary Australian player and coach is himself in no hurry, clearly indicating that the administrators (read that as Gill, given the fact that IHF is a one-man rule) have to change before he agrees to take charge.

Hockey is still considered – rightly or wrongly – the national game. What happened at Chile was unprecedented in the nation’s hockey history. To many Indians, it’s a national shame. Yet, the Sports Minister says that he cannot interfere in the affairs of the IHF. When the team plays in a global arena, at stake is the country’s name and its glorious past. They are playing in India colors. Isn’t National interest good enough to for the Ministry’s intervention? Especially when the entire country, including the players and administrators, are crying hoarse that the disaster was largely the making of the authoritarian ways of the IHF chief?

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