Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hockey umpires deserve government recognition, says India’s ace hockey umpire RV Raghu Prasad

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

He is touted as one of the best hockey umpires in the country. RV Raghu Prasad has indeed carved a niche for himself over the years, showing exemplary officiating skills in various domestic and international hockey matches. Raghu has umpired in more than 100 international matches (both at the senior and junior level). He has officiated in three FIH Champions Trophy tourneys (2005, 2009 and 2012 editions), two junior World Cups (2005 and 2009 editions) besides the 2010 World Cup, 2010 Asian Games, 2012 London Olympics and, mostly recently, in the inaugural Hero Hockey India League among many other high-profile events.

The 34-year-old Bangalorean scaled a new high in July 2009 when he was included in the FIH World Development Panel. He will be officiating in the FIH Hockey World League Round 3 tournament scheduled to be held in Johor Bahru, Malaysia from June 29 to July 7. Raghu, who works as an Assistant Manager with Karnataka State Hockey Association (KSHA), spoke on a wide range of issues in an exclusive interview.

Q. You first dreamt of becoming a doctor but choose to become an engineer obtaining a degree in aircraft maintenance. How did you manage to connect to hockey?
Well, I studied in the science stream and was keen to become a doctor, but time had chosen me to take up the engineering stream. To be honest, I was too much involved in NCC in my college days and couldn’t attain the expected marks required to become a doctor. So I had to choose a different stream.

Q. When did you started playing hockey?
I started playing hockey when I was in the 6th standard. I used to take part in the summer coaching camps conducted by BEL Colony Youth Association, under coach Mr Prakash V R. In fact, my mom and dad wanted me to take up cricket, but I chose hockey and now my family members watch more hockey than cricket.

Q. When did you take up umpire seriously?
I started umpiring in the year 1999/2000 (During my college days I was not much in touch with hockey). After finishing my college studies, I was looking for a job in the airline industry; but unfortunately, it didn’t happen as I desired. Instead of staying idle at home, I got involved with hockey again and started umpiring in KSHA matches. Usually everyone wants to be a player than being an official; I also tried my hand as a player but I couldn’t as there were much better players than me in those days. A good friend of mine was umpiring in the KSHA league, and seeing him I also thought of starting umpiring. One day Krishnamurthy Sir and other KSHA officials saw me umpiring and encouraged me to pursue it. Soon, I grew through the ranks and cleared the national grade test at Karimnagar during the 2001 National Junior (U-19) Hockey Championship.

Q. Can you throw light on your first umpiring assignment in the domestic circuit?
My first big assignment was the 2002 Senior Nehru Hockey Tournament held at New Delhi. Javed Shaikh of Mumbai and I were called upon to officiate in the said tournament. Both of us showed good umpiring skills and since then there has been no looking back.

Q Which was your first international tournament?
The 2003 Four-Nations Twin Leg Hockey Tournament held at Perth and Sydney in Australia. I got a call from Krishnamurthy Sir, who informed me that I have been appointed as an umpire for this tournament and he congratulated me. This was a red-letter day for me – a moment any sportsperson would cherish. It was an amazing experience; no words would be enough to explain my joy. I accompanied the Indian hockey team for that tournament.

The Pakistan-Australia match was my first assignment. I was nervous in the first 10-15 fifteen minutes of play but gradually I settled down and the match went off well. The umpires manager Mr Don Prior was impressed with my umpiring and also gave me a few pointers. Before the start of the match, the Indian players encouraged me to do well in that game. I’m really thankful to them for wishing me good luck on my first international assignment.

Q. You umpired in the 2005 Junior World Cup. Tell us a bit about these assignments.
The 2005 Junior World Cup was held at Rotterdam, Netherlands. It was my first junior World Cup assignment. I travelled along with the Indian Junior team to Bilbao before moving towards Rotterdam, The team was coached by Harinder Singh. I umpired in a few practice matches and in a Four-Nations tournament to prepare myself for the big event.

Q. You umpired in the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai. It must have been quite an experience officiating in India.
I got a last minute call from FIH since one of the umpires pulled out due to some reasons. It was my first Champions Trophy tournament featuring all the top-ranked nations. I was the youngest among all the experienced FIH appointed officials. It was a great platform for me to learn from these seasoned umpires.

Q. Officiating in the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi must have been a big moment of your umpiring career. Your thoughts.
It was my first World Cup and that too on home turf. I was geared up to blow the whistle in front of my own countrymen but I was laid low by ‘Delhi belly’. By the time I recovered, half the championship was finished. I was not at all happy at the turn of events. I pray that such adverse things do not happen to any umpire, especially in a big event. The ‘Delhi belly’ took its toll on few other officials as well.

Q. What was like officiating at the 2012 London Olympics?
I was eager to hear from FIH about umpiring in the London Olympics. So when I got the email from FIH about my selection, I was thrilled to bits. I was the happiest man on earth that day. I was in Hassan for a state-level tournament and started calling up my dear and near ones informing them about my Olympic selection. Then I saw the ‘Breaking News’ on news channels. I felt proud that I was going to representing the nation in the world’s biggest sporting event .

Q You made it to the FIH World Development Panel. Another umpiring high of your career?
I was included in the FIH World Development Panel on July 16, 2009. It was definitely a moment to cherish as it meant that I would be eligible to officiate in Olympic and World Cup matches.

Q Share us your experiences of officiating in the Hero Hockey India League.

The HIL was another exciting experience. Five different locations, different playing strategies, different atmosphere, blend of youngsters, foreign players from different parts of the globe made for awesome variety. All these factors made HIL a huge success.

Q. How lucrative hockey umpiring job is? Would you advise youngsters to take it up?
Umpiring doesn’t make you rich or poor by money. But officials do expect remuneration for their dedication towards the sport. Till date, I haven’t heard any benefits or recognition for hockey umpires from the central or state governments such as job or cash awards. Aren’t umpires human beings who also serve the game? The game of hockey has taught me a lot about life; I have made number of friends and well-wishers all across the globe – players, coaches and officials. I feel proud to be involved with hockey. It is a great boost when the authorities concerned recognize the efforts and dedication of an individual who has served the nation with distinction. It feels bad that we (hockey umpires) are not recognized at all when it comes to jobs or cash awards. Hockey umpires deserve government recognition. Big companies have to start recruiting young umpires as they recruit players and encourage them. It is the efforts of players/umpires/coaches that make a match spectator-friendly and everyone can enjoy it.

I’m currently employed with KSHA and work under Krishnamurthy Sir. KSHA has helped me by offering me a job till I find a suitable job where I can lead a happy sporting life like other national players do. I will definitely encourage youngsters to take up umpiring. It’s an art where you enjoy to the full.

Q. Who is your favourite hockey umpire and why?
At the domestic level, I like the umpiring of Shakeel Qureshi and Satinder Kumar Sharma (from India) and Henrik Ehlers, John Wright, David Gentles, Andy Mair from abroad, whom I have learnt skills, management, decision-making, etc.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your family?
I live along with my parents. My father Mr Venkateshappa is a retiree from Bharath Electronics (BEL) and my mother Mrs Anasooya, too, is a retiree from BEL. I’m married to Shobha from Bangalore in the year 2008 and we have a two-year son named Manvith Gowda. I have two elder sisters (Usha and Asha) who are happily married.

Q. What other things Raghu Prasad does when he is not officiating in hockey matches?
I try to spend time with my family on Sundays. On other days, I work at KSHA looking after hockey-related matters. I spend time nourishing and motivating young umpires who have taken umpiring besides enjoying few moments with friends during my free time at KSHA.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Frustrating to sit out, says injured Indian hockey forward Gurwinder Singh Chandi

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life. And Gurwinder Singh Chandi is fast realizing it. The talented Indian forward has been out of competitive action for close to two months now, having sustained an ankle ligament injury during the inaugural Hero Hockey India League (HIL). The injury had forced him out of the national team for two major international tournaments – FIH Hockey World League and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

The Jalandhar lad is now going through the rehab process in his hometown and is upbeat about returning to action soon. “The rehab on my ankle ligament injury is going fine. I’m doing exactly as prescribed by the national hockey team physiotherapist Shrikant Iyengar. I’m in touch with Shrikant Sir regularly, he keeps telling me on how to go about my rehab process,” Gurwinder says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.

The Indian striker stopped short of divulging details about when he can return to the hockey pitch. “At the moment, I’m busy with my rehabilitation exercises. At this point in time, I cannot exactly say when I will pick up my hockey stick and play in a competitive match.”

The fleet-footed forward, who was one of the stars for Delhi Waveriders in the Hockey India League, where he slammed five goals, concedes how frustrating it is to sit out when the national team is playing. “It is quite frustrating more so when our national team is playing in tournaments. I don’t have any choice but to take everything in my stride. You can’t control things which are not in your control,” he quips.

In fact, Gurwinder was named in the Hockey World League team and even attended the national camp before he cried out. “I attended the camp in New Delhi before it became clear that my ankle ligament injury is serious enough to put me out of the Hockey World League Round 2 Tournament,” he says.

The youngster, however, has positives memories of interacting with Hockey India’s High Performance Manager Roelant Oltmans during his brief stay in the national camp. “Roelant Oltmans is such a well known coach. During the HIL he was the coach of the Uttar Pradesh Wizards. I had a chance to catch up with him during our national camp in New Delhi. He called all the players individually and gave his inputs about our strengths and weaknesses. Interacting with him was a motivating experience for me,” he remarks.

Gurwinder last played in the Asian Champions Trophy in Doha. He was indeed looking forward to his 100th international during the Hockey World League – something which did not materialize. “I’m not a stats-conscious guy but people are telling me that I’m one match shy of playing 100 internationals. Obviously, playing 100 internationals for the senior team is a matter of pride for me and I hope to reach that milestone soon,” he sounds excited.

Having being forced to give the Hockey World League a miss, Gurwinder was hoping to be fit in time for the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. In fact, Hockey India did not name any replacement for him, obviously keeping their fingers crossed that he would make it to the Ipoh tourney. “I was staying positive about playing in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup but the injury took more time to heal and I could not make it. Malak Singh, one of our standbys took my place in Ipoh,” he reveals.

The national team does not have any international assignments until the Hockey World League semifinals, which is slated to be held in June this year. The only international engagement before the HWL semis was the proposed India-Pakistan home-and-away Test series, which was cancelled on account of diplomatic tensions. “Our national camp for the Hockey World League semifinals is starting at Bengaluru on April 6. Hopefully, I would be able to join my team-mates in the latter stages of the camp,” he concludes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

FIH deserves a big pat on their back for doing away with extra time rule

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Field hockey has changed a lot over the years. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) have altered rules from time to time with an aim to make the sport more competitive and at the same time, also enhance its excitement level so that the spectators get their money’s worth.

So many changes have taken place in the rule book of field hockey in the past couple of decades, and every new rule has only helped towards ensuring free flowing hockey.

And the International Hockey Federation (FIH) now wants to make hockey more pleasing for the viewers. FIH has recently announced several changes to the rules of the game.

The most striking rule change has been the move to do away with extra time from international matches. As per the new rules, any league match of a particular tournament would see teams share points when they are tied at the end of regulation time (end of 70 minutes of play).

In case of a classification match (a match held to decide positions of a particular tournament), the match would head straight into a penalty shootout when teams are locked on level terms at the end of regulation time.

I think it’s a good idea to dispense with extra time as teams are at times prone to adopting defensive tactics or look at ways to run down the clock in the dying moments of regulation time, knowing extra time is still there to be played.

The positive change will be that teams would be more keen to settle the outcome in regulation time rather allow their fate to be decided by penalty shootout, something teams dread to face as it is often like lottery.

When teams know they have to go all out to churn out a result in normal time and skirt facing the shootout, it would automatically lead to more open hockey.

FIH also deserves a pat on their back for imposing a 45-second time-limit on the execution of penalty corners. I think it bodes well for the game as teams are often seen taking their own sweet time in taking short corners.

These new rules will come into effect at the upcoming Women’s Hockey World League Round 4 tournament in Argentina.

Some Famous Changes in Field Hockey Rule Book
1904: Scoop shot was first allowed.

1908: Penalty corners were first allowed in field hockey.

1959: Umpires were given powers to slap a temporary suspension on a player.

1996: Off-side rule was temporarily abolished.

1998: Off-side rule was permanently abolished.

1998: Substitutions at penalty corners were no longer permitted except for an injured defending goalkeeper but were still permitted during penalty strokes.

2007: Permitting a team either to have a goalkeeper on the field or to play entirely with field players.

2013: Own goal rule was introduced. A goal will be allowed if the ball deflects home after the touching the defender.

I'm looking to improve penalty corner conversion rate, Indian drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

There was a time when the Indian senior men’s hockey team was struggling to find a decent crop of drag-flickers even as top names like Netherlands, Germany and Australia continued to churn such DF experts with increasing regularity.

Times have indeed changed over the years for Indian hockey. The men in blue now have a problem of plenty – a positive augury for the future. If there was a Sandeep Singh ploughing a lone furrow at one point of time, now the national team boasts of quite a few skilful drag-flickers.

Rupinder Pal Singh is one of the new breed of drag-flickers who infuse a lot of hope for Indian hockey. The six-foot four-inch hockey player is riding high on confidence after putting up a stellar show at the 2013 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament, where he rattled the opposition cage as many as six times.

“We played good hockey in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament. The fifth position doesn’t quite reflect the way we performed in Ipoh,” the burly fullback said in an exclusive interview.

The Faridkot lad, who honed his hockey skills in his formative years at the Chandigarh Hockey Academy, is pleased to have shouldered the responsibility of manning the Indian defence in the Ipoh tourney, given the absence of seasoned pros like Vokkaliga Raghunath and Sandeep Singh. “I had a big responsibility of nullifying the opposition attacks as Raghunath and Sandeep were not there. I enjoyed this responsibility. Responsibility brings the best out of me,” he says.

The 23-year-old defender has come in for praise from various quarters for the manner in which he shaped up in Ipoh. “I’m always looking to improve as a defender and also as a drag-flicker. There is always a lot to learn from every tournament and I’m richer with the Ipoh experience.”

Rupinder, who made his senior international debut in the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament, is more than happy to raise the performance bar all the time. “I don’t easily get satisfied. Complacency is the last thing in my mind. I want to pick new tricks of the trade and follow what coach Michael Nobbs says and implement them on the pitch,” the Indian Overseas Bank employee says matter-of-factly.

The big man from Punjab was a revelation in the 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament where he was the top-scorer, which included a sizzling hat-trick against Great Britain. “I have fond memories of the 2011 edition a year after my senior debut in the same tournament. My hat-trick against Great Britain has special memories for me,” recalls the youngster, who was a standby in the 2010 Commonwealth and 2010 Asian Games squads.

For any drag-flicker, a high conversion rate is imperative for the team’s success and Rupinder is straining his last nerve to get that up. “I know that I have to work on my penalty corner conversion rate. There is always room for improvement. Like we drag-flickers are looking to up our conversion rate, goalkeepers also train hard to foil our flicks. I have to study the body movements of goalkeepers and also keep a close eye on the angles as part of the learning curve,” he points out.

How comfortable is he with the cut-throat competition in the Indian drag-flick department given someone like Gurjinder Singh is snapping at his heels? “Well, competition is good for the team. Healthy competition keeps every player highly motivated as there is no scope to take things easy. If a player knows that there is nobody to replace him, he is prone to go easy which is not the right thing to happen for any player,” he explains.

Does he miss Sandeep Singh in the side? “I have asked for drag-flick tips from Sandeep. I have so much respect for him. I hope he makes a comeback to the national side soon,” he makes his point abundantly clear.

Rupinder, who is nicknamed ‘Bobby’, is upbeat about India faring well in the FIH Hero Hockey World League semifinals slated to be held in June this year. “We have a good team. If we stay injury-free and play to our potential, we stand a good chance of qualifying for round 2,” he remarks.

The well built defender, who has played 66 internationals, missed out on home cooked food when he is abroad playing for the country. “I do miss home cooked food when I am on national duty outside the country. Besides home cooked food I love to gorge on pasta which is one of my favourite food items,” he signs off (grins).

Friday, March 22, 2013

India to be selective about participation in future tourneys after umpiring blunders in Sultan Azlan Shah, says Narinder Batra

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Indian senior men’s hockey team may have finished their 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup campaign on a happy note, putting it across arch-rivals Pakistan 4-2 to claim the fifth spot. 

But the memories of how India nearly missed out on figuring in the bronze medal play-off tie thanks to a controversial final minute penalty stroke by Korean umpire Lim Jung Woo, which helped Malaysia to play out a 2-2 draw and shut the podium finish door on the Blueshirts won’t be forgotten in a tearing hurry.

There is an outpouring of anger and frustration among hockey lovers over how the national team has been repeatedly at the receiving end of poor umpiring decisions.

Only last year in the 2012 Asian Champions Trophy in Doha, India walked off the field when again another Korean umpire Shin Yun Dong first awarded a penalty stroke and later reversed his decision, seemingly buckling under pressure from the Pakistan players after consulting the third umpire.

Taking a realistic view of the repeated umpiring blunders against India, Hockey India (HI) was left fuming over the incident. “We are deeply disappointed and frustrated at the turn of events during the India-Malaysia match. Korean umpire Lim Jung Woo, who is five yards away from the action, first awards a penalty corner and then consults his fellow Australian umpire Ben de Yong and reverses his decision to a penalty stroke which is unacceptable to us,” Hockey India secretary general Narinder Batra said in an exclusive interview.

Batra said the hockey body would now tread a cautious path as far as participation in future tournaments are concerned. “We would discuss this issue at our next executive board meeting. We just feel that there is a need to be more selective about our participation in future international tournaments, especially those held in Asia,” he reasoned.

The Hockey India secretary general expressed his helplessness to pursue the umpiring issue with FIH. “Well, there is no procedure at present to protest against any umpiring decisions to FIH. So, there is no way that we can take up this issue with the world governing body.”

The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey tournament is conducted under the aegis of the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF). And Batra is one of the AHF vice-presidents. “As part of AHF, I would try my best to ensure such umpiring blunders don’t happen in big matches, or for that manner in any match,” he makes his point clear.

Batra questioned how Korean umpire Lim Jung Woo can officiate in a India-Malaysia match when his own country stood a chance of making a podium finish. “Had India won against Malaysia, they would have played New Zealand in the bronze medal play-off match. The draw hurt us the most as Korea went through to the bronze medal play-off game at our expense. So it was not fair to have a Korean umpire officiating though I don’t want to blame anyone,” he quips.

The unsavoury incidents of the 2012 Asian Champions Trophy final which India lost 4-5 to Pakistan is still fresh in Batra’s mind. “We were let down in Doha again by a Korean umpire Shin Yun Dong. He gave us a stroke only to cancel it after consulting the third umpire who was 50 yards away from the action,” he recalls.

He said poor umpiring decisions can have a demoralizing effect on the players. “The boys work hard to get a result in their favour but such umpiring gaffes can be demoralizing for the players,” he signed off.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I took up job in UP for my parents, says India’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup captain Danish Mujtaba

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The responsibility of being captain can bring out the best of some players, while it can also sometimes affect the performance of a player. Danish Mujtaba would be hoping for the former when he leads the Indian senior men’s hockey team at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, which begins at Ipoh, Malaysia from March 9-17.

The 24-year-old striker is raring to go after a decent run in the Hero Hockey World League Round 2 tournament as well as in the inaugural Hockey India League. “It’s a great feeling to be handed the captaincy responsibilities. I would look to live up to the trust the coach and the selectors have reposed in me,” Danish says in an exclusive interview.

The soft-spoken Allahabad lad is focused on the bigger picture of helping the national team to put up an impressive performance at the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament. “We would try to give our hundred percent.”

“We have a young team with not many seniors; even I’m also a junior player – we hope to fare well. It’s a pretty evenly balanced field – Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, New Zealand and Malaysia are all strong teams. You can’t afford to let your guard down against any of these teams,” the youngster points out.

Like of many of the Indian youngsters, the Hockey India League was a big learning experience for Danish. “I learnt a lot playing alongside some of the world’s top players like Oscar Deecke, Lloyd-Norris Jones, Nicolas Jacobi, Matt Ghodes and Simon Child. Our forward line had a bevy of quality foreigners, which really helped to improve my game since I play as a striker,” he explains.

Danish started honing his hockey skills at Sports Hostel Lucknow in 2001. In 2004, he joined the New Delhi-based SAI-Air India Hockey Academy, where he upgraded his skills. His biggest career break came when he donned the national jersey at the 2009 Junior Men’s World Cup which was jointly hosted by Malaysia and Singapore. India finished 9th in the tournament, but Danish announced his arrival with a dazzling hat-trick in India’s opening 10-0 routing of Singapore. “I got a chance to play in the Junior World Cup. My performance in the tournament helped me to soon earn a call-up to the senior men’s team,” he recalls.

He made his senior international debut a few months later during the seven-match hockey Test series against Canada, held in their backyard. India won the series 6-0 with one match being drawn. “I have fond memories of my senior international debut. I played in five of the seven games. I did not score any goals, but my debut series is something I will never forget,” he quips.

Danish, who has featured in more than a 100 internationals and scored 32 goals, had a natural inclination towards hockey and no prizes for guessing why. “My grandfather Idris Ahmed as well as my mama Atif Idris played for the country. Even my elder brother Hamza played a few internationals for India. My father also played at the state level. So it was never difficult to get motivated to play hockey,” he reminisces.

Most Indian hockey players takes up jobs in Railways, Air India or in oil companies. So why did Danish choose to take up a job for Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited? “Well, I work as a Sports Officer for UPPCL since 2011. I got this job offer after the 2010 Asian Games. Actually, my two elder brothers work and stay in Delhi, so I wanted to stay close to my family and decided to take up this job for my parents,” he says.

He rates his goal against Pakistan in the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy tournament in Doha as his most memorable goal. “I scored a field goal to equalize after we were down 0-2 at one stage. This is my most memorable goal till date.”

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