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Monday, October 25, 2021

Indians sweep FIH’s hockey awards; Olympic champions left empty-handed

The hockey world is up in arms unanimously, criticizing the voting system deployed by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to determine the winners.

Written by Mihir Vasavda |
Updated: October 7, 2021 7:30:43 am
Gurjit Kaur (right) was named as the best woman player while Harmanpreet Singh (left) was the best male (File)

Australia’s Kieran Govers wondered if this was ‘April Fools in October’. Belgium’s Victor Wegnez called it a ‘joke’. Germany’s captain at the Tokyo Olympics, Tobias Hauke, labeled the selection process as ‘ridiculous’. Britain’s Zach Wallace said it was ‘shameless’. Argentina’s Gonzalo Peillat used the hashtag ‘skandal’ while four Dutch players did not have any words; they just used ‘ROFL’ emojis.

Belgium men and the Netherlands women won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. But India swept all the awards. And the hockey world is up in arms unanimously, criticizing the voting system deployed by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to determine the winners. The sharp reactions have pushed the FIH into a corner, and the world body has said they will review their process.

The winners

The FIH, on Wednesday, announced that India made a clean-sweep of its annual awards. It’s the first time that a country has won in all eight categories.

Gurjit Kaur was named as the best woman player while Harmanpreet Singh was the best male. Savita Punia and PR Sreejesh were chosen as the best goalkeepers in the world while Sharmila Devi and Vivek Sagar Prasad were elected as the best rising stars.

Savita was one of the heroes of India’s unprecedented run at the Tokyo Games, making dozens of saves, especially in the quarterfinals against Australia. Sreejesh, too, stood out for India in crunch situations where he made match-winning interceptions, none more crucial than the save he made in the bronze medal match against Germany with just 7 seconds remaining. Harmanpreet and Gurjit scored important goals from penalty corners while Sharmila and Vivek added to their growing reputation with some stellar contributions throughout the campaign.

Graham Reid, who helped India win an Olympic medal after 41 years, and Sjoerd Marijne, whose women’s team finished a creditable fourth, were named the best coaches.

Marijne, who is now coaching Dutch club HC Tilburg, said the award ‘wouldn’t be possible’ without Janneke Schopman, who has succeeded him as the women’s team chief coach, strength and conditioning coach Wayne Lombard, his support staff and ‘a team which was always willing to push themselves.’

How they were chosen

The FIH uses an online voting system to determine the winners in all categories. As per the world body, the votes from the national associations, who are represented by their captains and coaches, counted for 50 percent of the overall result. The media had a 25 percent share while the remaining 25 percent was shared between the fans and players.

Out of its 137 member associations, 79 participated in the voting process (11 out of 25 from Africa, 29 out of 33 from Asia, 19 out of 42 from Europe, 3 out of 8 from Oceania, and 17 out of 30 from Pan America). The FIH added that a record 300,000 fans cast their votes.

India’s players got the maximum vote share from all three sections. Only in the Best Coach category, Belgium’s Shane McLeod and the Netherlands’ Alyson Annan got a larger share of votes from the national associations but got beaten in the overall count after adding media and fan votes.

System under scanner

There were some other debatable points as well.

For instance, Alexander Hendrickx scored 14 goals at the Tokyo Olympics, the most, including a hat-trick against India in the semifinals and a penalty in the tie-breaker against Australia in the final. Eva de Goede, regarded as the most complete player of her generation, orchestrated Netherlands’ march to the top of the podium; her third Olympic gold after 2008 and 2012, in addition to a silver at Rio 2016. Both, however, finished as runners-up in their categories.

Immediately after the announcement, players from all over the world criticised the voting system in one voice. Hockey Belgium said on social media that they were ‘very disappointed with the outcome of the awards’. “A gold winning team with multiple nominees in all categories but doesn’t win a single award demonstrates failure of the voting system. We will work with FIH to ensure a fairer system in the future,” the world and Olympic champions said, adding in another tweet that this should instead be called ‘Public’s Choice of the Year’.

Several international players, while underling that India’s players and coaches were not to be blamed and recognising the progress made in the last few years, mocked the system used to determine the winners on social media. “FIH, you should think about the system as soon as possible,” Hauke wrote on his Instagram. “It’s ridiculous and does not help us to make sport more professional. Nerveless (Nevertheless), congratulations to all Indian players; Hockey India, you (have) done a great job over the past years – and now bring back the Hockey India League – it is time again!”

The FIH defended the process saying that the winners would have been the same even if ‘one or two of these voting groups would not have been involved’. But they added that they ‘will conduct a review of the FIH Hockey Stars Awards and make adjustments wherever deemed necessary.’
There was no reaction from Hockey India, the national team players or men’s coach Reid.

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