The more things change in Indian hockey, it would seem, the more they remain dismal. Another foreign coach is set to leave this country, disgruntled and disillusioned with a callous administration. Just five months into the job, Paul van Ass will be the fourth foreign coach in the last five years — and the 21st overall in as many years — to make an unceremonious exit after a fallout with the Hockey India president, Narinder Batra.
To be sure, tiffs between administrators and coaches are not unusual, in India or abroad. This is more so in the case of foreign coaches, who come from a different set-up, and crucially, a contrasting work culture. Spats between coaches and administrators are bound to take place in high-profile sports where the results are more in the public eye. For all its show of professionalism, cricket too has witnessed instances where the coaches and the game’s governors have not had cordial relationships. Such conflicts have been known to spill into public view across sports, in athletics, shooting and football. Top football clubs like Chelsea and Real Madrid have a revolving door policy for coaches. Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, has fired coaches on a whim in the last few years, and despite having seen off a dozen coaches in the last 10 years, the club’s performance hasn’t suffered. In Indian hockey, though, the constant face-off between coaches and administrators is taking a visible toll.
Every time the team has shown promise, the coach has been shown the door.
The lack of continuity has affected the performance of the players. By the time they get used to the style of the coach, he has been booted out, and his successor comes in with his own set of ideas. Batra might be one of the best administrators in the country, and he has indeed changed the face of the game in India. He might even have a persuasive argument when he says that sponsors will support the sport only if the results improve. But he has clearly crossed the line by entering the dugout, a sacrosanct area on the field, and criticising the players. The hockey bosses might have the best interests of the team in mind, but they cannot expect to get any support unless they change the way in which they run the game.