The International Hockey Federation (FIH) elected Narinder Batra as its president last week—the first non-European to hold the post. Batra, 59, who became the president of Hockey India in 2014, has been credited with reviving the fate of hockey in the country. He got businesses to invest in the sport and started the Hockey India League.
In an interview, Batra talks about his goals as FIH chief and the future of Indian hockey. Edited excerpts:
As the first non-European president in the history of the FIH, what are your most immediate goals?
There is only one game I have played all my life, and intend to in the years to come, and that is hockey. My aim is to inspire the generations that come, in India and across the world, to pick up a hockey stick and play the game. I want to make hockey more popular and more accessible.
And how do you intend on making that happen?
By making more countries play the sport. In the years to come, I want at least 20-25 hockey-playing nations in the world. There are countries in Africa, (North and South) America, and even some more countries in Asia that can be introduced to the sport. There is a lot of work to be done. Africa as a continent, for example, has very few AstroTurfs, (like) in Egypt and South Africa. As the governing body of the sport, we need to give them those turfs, and other facilities. In the years to come, FIH is working on something called the 10-year Hockey Revolution, a strategy we will implement from 2019.
Can you elaborate?
It has some very basic objectives. Firstly, we want to introduce a lot more innovative and exciting events. We want to make these tournaments like festivals. In fact, in the (Hockey) Junior World Cup next month in Lucknow, we are planning something on these lines already. Apart from the stadiums, the Uttar Pradesh government will set up large screens showing hockey matches at major and popular landmarks across the state. Secondly, we need to make the functioning of the FIH more professional. It’s something that we (have) managed to achieve in Hockey India already. Thirdly, we are looking at developing a lot of content around the game of hockey. Whatever cannot be telecast will be streamed on YouTube. And that does not apply to FIH tournaments only. For example, in India, domestic tournaments like the nationals, Beighton Cup can be live-streamed on YouTube, quarter-final stage onwards. Fourthly, we need to keep a strict eye on preventing corruption and issues like drugs in sports.
A decade ago, you were seen as a rebel who opposed K.P.S. Gill, then president of the now-suspended Indian Hockey Federation, and his functioning of Indian hockey, and now you are the FIH president...
People say a lot of things; you can’t react and think about them forever. I have only one belief. The job needs to be done and it needs to be done honestly. We all have enemies, but after a stage you realize it’s best to stay positive and do something productive.
You also decided to mend ties with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president, N. Ramachandran, having earlier accused him of bribing you to support him during his tenure as the IOA president?
I like things to be peaceful.
What happens to Hockey India now?
Nothing happens; Hockey India will continue to function the way it has been under a new president. We have a system in place for our day-to-day management of affairs, and honestly I had stopped interfering sometime back itself. In a few days, Hockey India goes into some important sponsor meetings, and I won’t be a part of that. I am not worried because I know the people in charge will do a good job. As FIH president, I cannot have a conflict of interests, which is why I have quit from my posts as president of J&K Hockey Association, vice-president of the Asian Hockey Federation, president of Hockey India and chairman of Hockey India League, and will quit from the post of associate vice-president of the IOA.
There is no denying your contribution to Indian hockey. You got a federation in place, brought big-ticket events to India, started a league. Is there anything you regret from the time you were Hockey India president?
My only regret is that I could not start a hockey league for women.
We are less than a month away from the Junior World Cup. Is Pakistan going to send their team?
The Pakistan Hockey Federation has confirmed that they will be sending their team.
How confident are you that they will be here and participating in the World Cup?
As the FIH, I cannot deny participation to any country. If they are here, of course the security will be organized accordingly. But it depends on the two countries. If either India or Pakistan don’t allow their team to travel, then that’s not in the hands of the FIH. In that case we will field replacement teams. We have a back-up plan.
Suprita Das is a senior sports correspondent with NDTV