Why would you rock the boat when everything is going fine? Hockey lovers across the country pretty much asked this same question when Indian men’s hockey team coach Terry Walsh was declared ‘non-grata’ by Hockey India. The apex hockey body accused the Aussie of engaging in ‘financial wrongdoing’ during his stint as USA Field Hockey High Performance Technical Director.
The ‘financial irregularities’ angle took all by surprise including the top mandarins at the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India, as the latter was in the process of hammering out a fresh contract with Walsh after the Australian coach voiced his displeasure over bureaucratic hurdles among other issues he endured during his one-year stint as coach. It’s a different matter altogether that Walsh wanted the new contract according to his own terms and conditions, but the point is: how could Hockey India accuse the Aussie of financial impropriety without substantiating it?
One hates to talk about the politics that goes on in Indian hockey as the sheer passion and well-being of the sport keep me focused on purely the on-field stuff. Hockey India, unlike the erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation, has been doing a fabulous job of picking up the pieces since India's disastrous wooden-spoon finish at the 2012 London Olympics. Hockey India deserves all the praise for adopting a professional approach, but has indeed cut a disappointing figure with this so-called ‘financial irregularity’ allegation on Walsh.
Let me make one thing clear – no way am I suggesting who is right or wrong. All I’m asking is: why was Hockey India was in a tearing hurry to brand Walsh a ‘villain’ without allowing him an opportunity to prove his innocence? It’s absolutely fine if Walsh is proved guilty and Hockey India cracks the whip on him, and I’m sure no hockey lover would question that. But to brand somebody a culprit without furnishing adequate proof only smacks of a feeling that the hockey body was just not ‘comfortable’ with Walsh around for reasons probably best known to them.
Over the years, Hockey India has hardly put a foot wrong, and we all laud the way they have been running the sport in the country, but this incident clearly left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Hockey India has made it clear that Walsh is a closed chapter for them, but how do they respond to the fact that USA Field Hockey has given a clean chit to the Aussie, denying that he was involved in any financial wrongdoing during his stint at USA coach? Every coach is replaceable and no one disputes that, but finding a coach with the same credentials as Terry Walsh will not be easy with less than two years left for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
One has to understand that that the team has settled well under Walsh and achieved huge success in 2014. His critics may say hockey is a team game and one man cannot be given all the credit, but it can’t be denied that the head coach along with the entire support take the credit or brickbats along with the players for a team’s success or failure.
Walsh left no one in doubt that he really got a ‘process’ going in the Indian team and ensured that the team played as a unit. He was perhaps the best performing foreign coach India has had so far. Players may never admit in the public domain about how much they gained under Walsh, but deep inside they are deeply indebted to him for bringing a sense of ‘oneness’ in the side.
Roelant Oltmans also did a superb job at the Champions Trophy, but the seeds of the country’s stellar effort in that tourney were sown by Walsh. If Walsh was guilty of any wrongdoing and has underperformed as coach, Hockey India can sack him and nobody will have a problem. But to declare somebody guilty without giving him an opportunity to hear his side of the story leaves a lot to be desired.
The show will go on and somebody will take over the coaching reins, and probably India will win a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and we will all rejoice. But hockey lovers will have a feeling ingrained their minds – that Terry Walsh was declared ‘unwanted’ in Indian hockey for reasons beyond our comprehension.
The USA hockey’s clean chit to Walsh should have been responded positively by Hockey India, who have been carrying themselves so well over the past few years. This issue will invariably leave hockey buffs with more questions than answers!