In the last one month, Narinder Batra has jet-setted across 50 countries. And by this weekend, he hopes to have ticked each of the 67 nations on his list. “Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America… On some days, I’ve had breakfast in one country, lunch in another and slept in third, especially in Europe,” he says.
It’s a campaign blitz Batra has been forced to launch as he challenges the European domination of the International Hockey Federation (FIH). In its 92-year history, there has never been an Asian FIH president. In the immediate past, all FIH heads have been Europeans – Rene Frank, Etienne Glichitch, Juan Antonio Calzado, Els van Breda Vriesman and the outgoing Leandro Negre.
Batra says the continent has passed a resolution in September which says that each member nation should vote for a European candidate during the election in Dubai on November 12. In this case, the candidate Europe has backed for the president’s post is the seasoned Irish administrator David Balbirnie. Batra’s other rival is Australia’s Ken Read, another veteran FIH hand who has been involved in various capacities—forming rules to conducting events —for nearly two decades. “In that sense, I am the unknown person among the three. David and Ken are both very experienced. They have been interacting with FIH members for at least a decade or two. I have been involved for just 2-3 years and don’t know more than 15-20 members,” says Batra, who can become only the third Indian to head an international sports body at present, after Shashank Manohar (ICC) and N Ramachandran (squash).
But in his short stint as FIH’s executive board member, Batra – also the Hockey India president – says he has observed at the world body’s functioning closely, and points at some serious flaws – with revenue generation topping his list of concerns.
According to him, the combined worth of India and Holland is three times more than the FIH. “This year, our revenue was around $16 million and Holland’s was $14 million. On the other hand, FIH could generate just $10 million. That means there is something seriously wrong,” he says.
Over the years, Batra has been involved with Indian hockey in several capacities. But since being directly associated after the formation of Hockey India, he has changed the sport’s fortunes, turning India into the epicentre of world hockey and making Indian players financially independent.
Every year in the last four years, India has hosted a major international tournament. The Hockey India League (HIL) has become an important fixture in the global calendar, luring top players from world over. Financially, too, the game has grown exponentially.
His candidature profile on the FIH website, Hockey India’s ‘income has grown from $500,000 to $14 million over the six-year period’ with Batra at the helm.
Globally, one of hockey’s biggest sponsor is an Indian automobile firm while Star Sports inked a Rs 1,500 crore broadcast deal with the FIH for eight years, running up to 2022. “I can contribute a lot in revenue generation at international level too. There’re markets in USA, China, Japan, Malaysia, Europe which we haven’t explored,” Batra says. “If we make the sport financially strong, then we can bring more countries to a competitive level, which is my other main goal.”
But there are fears that Batra’s reputation might precede him. He has been accused by many of ruling with an iron fist, primarily by the coaches who have travelled to India. Batra dismisses those allegations but says he won’t change his style if elected.
“My working style is straightforward. I can’t beat around the bush. If you talk sense, I am an easy person to work with. But if someone’s trying to be dishonest with me, then it’s tough. My style won’t change,” he says, reiterating that he has documents supporting his claim that allegations made by former coaches Terry Walsh and Paul van Ass against him were wholesomely false.
“If I have four years, I will try to bring hockey to an upper level with honesty and transparency. Whoever tries to stop the system from working smoothly will have to make way for others, simple as that.”
Frosty ties with Pakistan
His frosty relationship with Pakistan might cost him a crucial Asian vote. Batra had suspended bilateral ties after the incident during the 2014 Champions Trophy semifinal, when some of the Pakistani players misbehaved with the crowd and their Indian counterparts. But he is unperturbed. “Asia has stood strongly by me. Africa, Pan-Am as well,” says Batra.
Batra will hope the verbal support will translate to votes on November 12 . No Indian has ever managed the highest office of international hockey. Ashwani Kumar and MAM Ramaswamy served as the vice-presidents while KPS Gill made a failed attempt for the same position. Whether Batra bucks the trend, and also end European dominance in FIH, remains to be seen.