“If you come to India as a foreign coach, there is one thing for sure – before you finish your contract, you will be fired.” The frustration is palpable in Roelant Oltmans’ voice. After spending four years in India, the Dutchman was informed via a brief email on Saturday that his services as chief coach were no longer required. The 23rd coach to be shown the door in as many years and the fourth foreigner in last four years.
When he took over as the chief coach in August 2015, Oltmans insisted he could succeed where none of his predecessors had. Before him, India had employed six foreign coaches. But all of them had left these shores disillusioned. In fact, three coaches – Australians Michael Nobbs and Terry Walsh, and Holland’s Paul van Ass – were all shown the door during Oltmans’ term as the high performance director.
Hockey India, the sport’s governing body, decided to sack him following a three-day meeting of its 24-member High Performance and Development Committee. Hockey India’s high performance director David John, primarily a fitness coach, has been handed over the reins till a new coach is identified. According to John, the process may take up to three months but it is believed current women’s team chief coach Sjoerd Marijne is being considered as a replacement.
Oltmans’ future was thrown into doubt in July after India’s dismal performance at the Hockey World League. The team finished sixth out of 10 teams in the tournament but the defeats to minnows Malaysia and Canada dented the confidence Hockey India had in him. It was the second time India had lost to Malaysia this year while the team was unable to beat Canada at last year’s Olympics as well.
Those results, coupled with the team’s inability to beat the top nations, made Oltmans’ position untenable, according to Hockey India. “Our performances were inconsistent. Unfortunately, we either need to change the whole playing group, or as often is the case, the chief coach is the one who suffers. In this case, we look for new direction by getting a new coach,” John said.
John’s appointment as the high performance director earlier this year created two power centres. He did not share a cordial relationship with Oltmans. According to sources, John became heavily involved in team selections and added six players to the squad for India’s Europe tour last month against Oltmans’ wishes. It undermined the 63-year-old’s position in the dressing room, which a senior player highlighted during the review meeting.
The player informed the committee during the meeting that there was a disquiet within the team. The players alleged that Oltmans ‘favoured a couple of players’ despite their poor form, which affected the morale of the team. “Overall, these factors were responsible in the team’s performances stagnating over the last 12 months, especially after the Olympics. The coach was not able to motivate the team so we felt a change we needed,” Olympian BP Govinda, a member of the committee, said.
Oltmans came to India in 2013 following the team’s 12th-place finish at the London Olympics. In 2015, he was made the chief coach after Van Ass was sacked following a tiff with then Hockey India president Narinder Batra.
Oltmans is credited with bringing stability to the team that looked disjointed. Under him, India won a silver medal at the Champions Trophy last year for the first time in over three decades while he also played a crucial role in India winning the junior World Cup last year.
However, Hockey India termed these achievements ‘more incidental than deliberate.’ Like each of his predecessors, Oltmans too leaves the country disillusioned and miffed with the federation, saying not many foreigners will be keen to coach India if they are treated this way. “I can only say that at least the area where I come from, not too many people are keen. I am not sure about others but of course there will always be someone like me who think they can change the system. But one thing is sure, you cannot change the system,” he said.