Re-elected Batra counts on India to restore hockey's glory

Narinder Batra just about hung on to his position as the president of the International Hockey Federation (FIH).

In the virtual elections held at the body's 47th congress last Saturday, the Indian claimed a 63-61 victory over Belgium's Marc Coudron.

Obviously, the Asian and African federations delivered Batra the narrow win, while the European and the Pan-American bloc were unhappy with him over several issues, including the decision to hold major international events, including the next junior men's World Cup and the senior men's World Cup, in India.

"From the election results, you can say that nearly 49 per cent of the members want change," he said during his press conference.

"I want to understand their issues and make sure we implement them. It's my duty to understand where they feel I didn't live up to expectations.

"Our job in the next three years is to make hockey the most preferred sport."

One way the FIH plans to do that is by accelerating the growth of hockey 5s.

Batra has said that "it is my dream" to watch hockey 5s at the Olympics.

The FIH hopes it can eventually have both the traditional 11-a-side version as well as the 5s at the Olympics together.

"I have had this conversation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC assured me there is no danger to the 11-a-side format at the Olympics. Hockey 5s being at the Games will only help increase visibility of the sport," said FIH CEO Thierry Weil.

But more importantly the FIH must explore new resources to generate revenue.

Like most international federations, the FIH is dependent on the Olympics for healthy financials.

After the Tokyo Olympics was postponed last year, the FIH had to take a loan from the IOC to make ends meet.

While the FIH refused to reveal the size of the loan, Weil did say that "we are in complete saving mode".

According to its annual financial statements, The FIH lost more than US$349,000 ($463,000) in 2018.

That figure doubled to US$705,000 in 2019.

At the end of that year, the FIH's assets were down to US$8.2 million and equity and reserves to under US$5.6 million.

There is no indication how it fared in Covid-19-ravaged 2020.

Batra, who is also the president of the Indian Olympic Association and an IOC member, said in his election manifesto that there is an urgent need to "explore new resources to generate revenue".

He elaborated: "I believe that it's very important for us to develop media (digital plus broadcast) rights as a strong source of revenue.

"This added to sponsor revenues are capable of leading us to the path of healthy sustainable financial stability.

"If we invest our efforts in developing the overall experience for the consumer, all stakeholders will find the right kind of long-term support for the sport.

"We will seize every opportunity to grow hockey, both in terms of participants and fans, as this is so crucial to generate the resources we need to make our sport flourish."

Hockey has one potential advantage over most other sports which are placed in a similar financial situation: The depth of its roots in hugely populous and financially powerful India.

The country was once the hockey superpower, winning seven of the eight men's Olympic tournaments staged between 1928 and 1964, including dishing out an 8-1 walloping to Germany in the 1936 final.

Should either its men's or women's team grab Olympic gold again, it might well spark something for the sport's business side, just like India winning the World Cup and other major international tournaments have done for cricket.

Batra is obviously counting on that.

Indo-Asian News Service

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