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Explained: Who is Narinder Batra, the once all-powerful sports administrator now in CBI net?

Narinder Batra is a fascinating and complex personality. He has had an influence on several sporting bodies. So, how did things go wrong for him?

Narinder Batra at Idea Exchange at The Indian Express in December 2019. (Amit Mehra/Express Archive)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) website has a comprehensive profile of Narinder Batra.

It lists Batra’s diverse business interests — in hospitals, hospitality, education, exports, commodities, home furnishings, home appliances manufacturing, automobile dealerships, automobile components manufacturing, transport, LPG & petrol tankers, special trucks, transport vehicles, etc.

The Batras, the website says, also own gas stations, petrol pumps, and a solar power plant — and have also won a bid for a private sea port in Gujarat.

Apart from these, Batra, of course, happens to be the most powerful and influential Indian sports administrator of recent times. The former hockey player from Jammu had a presence across the sports spectrum and, at the zenith of his power, was the president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), International Hockey Federation (FIH), as well as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

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Batra quit all three posts on Monday, the day the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a case against him for alleged misappropriation of funds.

The master of many games

Batra is a fascinating and complex personality. He has had an influence on several sporting bodies, including the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), and Hockey India, a federation which was his brainchild. His feud with former Indian Hockey Federation president KPS Gill over which body should govern the sport in the country was one of the bitterest battles in Indian sports administration.

But as Batra reached his various positions of power, there would have been several colleagues and fellow sports administrators who would have felt being rubbed the wrong way. There were several fellow IOA office-bearers who didn’t see eye to eye with the president on various issues, providing fodder for gossip.

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Realising the power of hockey

As far as hockey is concerned, a sport Batra played at the national level, he continued to call the shots in India even after taking over as the world body’s boss. Be it the performance of the national teams or the hiring and firing of foreign coaches and experts, his was considered the final word, even if unofficial.

He is the person credited with making India the financial nerve centre of world hockey with a lion’s share of the sponsorship money coming from the country. So much so that next year’s men’s World Cup will be the third edition in four to be staged in India.

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During Batra’s time, India also made its presence felt on the turf, culminating in the bronze medal for men at the Tokyo Olympics, where the men narrowly missed out on a podium finish.

Another facet of Batra’s personality seemed to be his indefatigable energy. He was always online and ready to pick up his phone at almost any hour of the day. Immensely media-savvy, in contrast to other sports administrators in the country, he made it a point to cultivate relationships with journalists, when it’s often the other way round.

Strong views, assertive style

Batra has not been averse to taking on federations or state governments when he felt the need. Frustrated at the bureaucratic hurdles in staging international hockey tournaments in Delhi, the then Hockey India president took events to hockey-loving cities like Ranchi, Bhubaneswar, and Raipur, where the state governments were much more supportive.

“Our system is such that it is controlled either by the Prime Minister or the Chief Ministers. If the CM has interest, things will be done,” Batra said at an Idea Exchange interaction at The Indian Express in late 2019.

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He also prevented Pakistani players from appearing in the Hockey India League after unsavoury scenes following a Champions Trophy encounter on Indian soil.

“They have shown no regret for the shameful incident in writing or otherwise. That kind of behaviour is unacceptable. PHF (Pakistan Hockey Federation) has to regret the behaviour of its players. For us, it is abnormal. So, until they express their regret, we will not be playing with them. I would have loved to see the Pakistani players in the HIL, but not with the kind of unacceptable behaviour they showcased,” Batra, who was the Hockey India president then, had said.

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Running into trouble

Things started to go wrong for Batra after the Delhi High Court in May struck down the post of ‘life member’ in Hockey India, on the basis of which he had contested, and won, the election to become IOA president in 2017.

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Batra didn’t get much relief even on appeal, as a larger Bench of the High Court refused to stay the order. His IOC membership was linked to the IOA role, and Batra subsequently said he would not stand for re-election as IOA president so that he could focus on his role as FIH president, the first Asian to hold the post. He had also won a second term, until 2024.

With the CBI claiming to have found “incriminating documents/ records” against Batra following raids at offices of Hockey India and IOA, along with his residences in New Delhi and Jammu, his troubles have escalated.

Batra is alleged to have misappropriated Hockey India funds to the tune of Rs 35 lakh. There are also charges of “committing illegalities for renovation and furnishing of the office of IOA president in 2018”.

Batra, during his various stints as an administrator, developed a reputation for being a fighter. But with no official post to bank on, and courts and investigative agencies looking into past dealings, the battle may be long and tough.

First published on: 20-07-2022 at 03:02:09 pm
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