This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Being a top sports federation official in India is far from being a bed of roses. And nobody knows it better than Hockey India former secretary general and now president Narinder Batra. One will not be surprised if the top HI functionary's critics have been overflowing over the years with no many really willing to see any ‘good’ in its intent to carry out the day-to-day operations of the federation. People are always in a tearing hurry to walk down the criticism path when it comes to Batra – he is invariably vilified so much so that any slightest attempt to laud him would appear like one has some personal interest behind praising him.
For a man who famously stepped down as the then Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) vice president after India for the first time failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, even slamming the then IHF President KPS Gill of autocratic functioning, Batra’s performance graph as Hockey India secretary general hasn’t exactly been deeply disappointing as many of his critics, especially his bête noire KPS Gill would like us to believe. Let’s understand one thing – Indian hockey has been enveloped by so much of cynicism built over many decades. Every move of the federation came under the scanner be it holding camps, team selection, coaches’ appointment, etc. Even if things were happening for the betterment of the sport, it was still looked upon with sarcasm.
We have consistently seen over the years that every time India loses a key match, all the talk revolves around improving hockey infrastructure, which leaves a lot to be desired. At times, Hockey India is slammed for lack of artificial turfs in the country – we got to understand that Hockey India is accountable for the team’s performance only and just does not have the financial muscle like BCCI to have Stadiums up and running in months or a few years. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Sports Ministry are principally responsible for upgrading hockey infrastructure in the country, and it’s ridiculous to see people come down heavily on Hockey India for inadequate infrastructure in the country. Performance-wise we can flay HI; that’s our right if they are underperforming, but surely not for lack of infrastructure – the government agencies, in fact, have a much bigger role to play than HI when it comes to improving hockey infrastructure.
If we glance at the bigger picture, one is not saying that Batra did not put a foot wrong – surely he must have, but if his intent is anything to go by, one can be rest assured that he puts interests of Indian hockey above everything else. Of course, the memories of national players refusing the Rs 25,000 cash award from HI after they won the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy in Ordos and the wooden-spoon finish at the 2012 London Olympics were some of the low points of his stint as secretary general. But the Hockey India's top mandarin has shown that he was willing to take all the criticism in his stride and focused on the biggest goal – improving India as a hockey nation. It was during his stint that India reached the semifinals of the premier Champions Trophy after many years – their first tourney since the London disaster. The Indian junior women’s hockey team bagged a bronze medal in the 2013 Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, catching many by surprise. The year 2014 saw India finish runners-up to world champions Australia in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, reaching the final ahead of higher ranked teams like England and New Zealand.
The year 2014 saw India finish runners-up to world champions Australia in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, reaching the final ahead of higher ranked teams like England and New Zealand and the men’s Asiad gold was like the icing on the cake not to forget our women team’ s bronze medal feat at Incheon. It was also in early 2014 that India managed to beat Olympic champions Germany 5-4 at the Hockey World League Final Round in Delhi.
Batra was also instrumental in shaping up the Hero Hockey India League, which has been a success, creating a platform for some latent talents to showcase their wares. He was the man who started the trend of offering an apology through a press note when the team performed below-par in an international tourney – he was also the first to start the gesture of paying a cash award to any men player who made his senior international debut besides giving the national team a fitting send-off before the team leaves overseas for an international tourney - things unheard of during the term of KPS Gill.
Clearly, the four-year stint Narinder Batra as secretary general can no longer attract derision. Of course-, Batra-bashers will never rest in peace and always look at an opportunity to pounce on him, but one firmly believes Indian hockey has moved forward after the London catastrophe under him as HI secretary general. And if we recall memories of some of the former officials of the federation, Batra appears more acceptable, someone who inspires confidence among fellow officials. Let’s not miss out on an opportunity to give Batra a pat on his back!