Hockey India wants a ‘result-oriented’ coach for the national team — someone who wins matches and tournaments. But even that might not be enough to save you from getting the sack from the commitment-phobic federation.
Since taking over in August 2015, Roelant Oltmans played a direct role in India winning a medal at major international tournament for the first time in over 30 years when the team clinched bronze at the World League in 2015.
The following year, India played one of its best tournaments in recent memory to end up with a silver medal at the Champions Trophy. The performance in the final against Australia, despite the loss, brought Twitter down at 3am in India. It’s unlikely, though, that Hockey India officials would’ve taken the pain to stay up and watch Oltmans’ side boss over Australia.
Instead, they chose to not only belittle these performances but also dismiss them with an arrogance that even the world’s top hockey nations do not display. “…The sporadic success over the last two years is more incidental than deliberate,” chairman of Hockey India’s selection committee Harbinder Singh said.
“Wins in Asia cannot be a benchmark anymore,” he added, even though Hockey India went to the town every time India beat Pakistan or won a continental tournament and showered the players and coaches with money.
Oltmans, of course, isn’t the first coach to be sacked despite getting the results. Take, for instance, the case of Terry Walsh. Months after he was appointed, the Australian was told he would be sacked if India did not win the 2014 Asian Games gold medal. In September that year, the team did finish on the top of the podium in Incheon. Still, two months later, Walsh was booted out. “He isn’t that good a coach,” was one of Hockey India’s several alibi.
Back then, Oltmans was relatively new to the politics of Indian sport. But he learnt one thing: his end would be similar. So when Hockey India sacked him on Saturday, he was not entirely surprised. But the excuse – and that’s what it is – did leave him dumbfounded. In trying to justify their decision, Hockey India erased the four years of contribution Oltmans has made to Indian hockey.
To further legitimise its result rhetoric, the federation said the team’s performances against lower-ranked teams, specifically Malaysia and Canada, was Oltmans’ undoing. India have played Malaysia twice this year and lost both times. Canada defeated them at July’s World League semifinals in London while managed to split points at the Rio Olympics last year.
The general feeling was Oltmans did not have an alternate strategy against teams that played defensively and attacked on the counter. There is some merit in this argument but it completely ignores the other side to it – the players, who are as much guilty party to it as the coach.
Interim coach David John, also the high performance director, said they had the option of either changing the entire playing group or the coach. However, with the player pool already so thin, they could ill-afford to take the drastic first option. The coach was a convenient scapegoat. But it’s important for John and rest of Hockey India top-brass to understand that this is a deep-rooted malaise.
India seem to have ignored – consciously or otherwise – the rapid rate at which world hockey is growing. Belgium, a country with no real history, came from nowhere and whizzed past India. Malaysia, Ireland, Japan are all catching up. And they are doing that because of a strong domestic structure and scouting network.
Hockey India does not take its domestic tournaments seriously. You don’t see selectors at any tournaments apart from the national championships. Hockey India League, which is scrapped for the time being, was used to select players for the national team core group. There’s no national academy, a developmental squad has been formed just recently. In a nutshell, there’s no structure.
Usually, a High Performance Director is made responsible to put these things in place. But Hockey India seems confused about the role of a High Performance Director.
Oltmans was originally brought in that role. His KRA was to develop a blue-print for grassroots development, forming an academy and essentially bring order to the way Indian hockey was run.
But as Hockey India embarked on its sacking spree – beginning with Michael Nobbs in 2013 – Oltmans was made to perform several roles. He was the interim coach of the men’s team twice, women’s team once and assisted the junior team before he was eventually given full charge of the men’s team. Now, with Oltmans gone, another high performance director – John – has been made the interim coach as
Some of Oltmans’ team selections were questionable, like his obsession with sticking to tired old legs and reluctance to blood juniors in the squad. But these are issues that any mature federation would’ve sorted out by sitting across the table and having a honest discussion about the team’s targets and ability of the players to achieve them.
Unless there’s a honest review – and not like the pre-decided one that took place last week – the desired results won’t come, no matter how many coaches the federation changes.
Hockey India keeps high, somewhat unrealistic, expectations from its foreign coaches. However, if they applied the same high standards to themselves, India hockey would be in good place.