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A year is a lifetime in Indian sport, especially hockey. Rules can be formed, bent and broken in this little span.
Ahead of the inaugural edition of the Hockey India League last year, then chief coach of the national team Michael Nobbs was denied permission by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) from taking up a coaching role with one of the franchisees. According to the Australian, he was even advised by Roelant Oltmans not to accept the offer, insisting it would compromise the position of national coach. Nobbs did what he was told to and that was seen as a wise move by everyone.
Now, in a complete U-turn to their initial stand, SAI and Hockey India have allowed five coaches associated with the Indian teams to take up coaching roles in HIL franchisees. Roelant Oltmans (high performance director) is the chief coach of Sahara-owned Uttar Pradesh Wizards, Terry Walsh (head coach) is the coach of new entrants Kalinga Lancers, MK Kaushik (assistant coach) is in-charge of Mumbai Marines, Baljit Saini (coach, junior team) is the assistant coach of Ranchi Rhinos and Dave Staniforth (goalkeeping coach) is performing the same role for the Rhinos.
Understandably, there has been brouhaha over these men holding two posts simultaneously, especially Oltmans and Walsh who hold very important and influential posts. SAI initially termed their association as ‘unethical’ but later relented, insisting they won’t be paying their salary for this duration.
But money is hardly the issue here.
India will be taking part in four major tournaments, including the World Cup, Commonwealth and Asian Games, this year. It’s bench strength, which is shrinking by the day, will be tested. Rather than managing teams from the touchline, Walsh and Oltmans would have been better off scouting young players and evaluating the performances of national team regulars without any prejudice by travelling to various venues during the HIL.
Hockey India has splurged money on these top-notch coaches. But it would be ideal if they exclusively focussed on developing the grassroots, share their knowledge with young players, focus on junior tournaments – where real talents can be identified and nurtured – and focus on the national team’s development. Sadly, instead of being able to stand back and look at the overall picture, the coaches will be under pressure to ensure a respectable place in the table for their teams in the HIL.
Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai.