India’s overseas hockey coaches have no fixed term! (Column: Just Sport)

Every top overseas coach engaged by Hockey India (HI) left abruptly with a bitter experience and cursing both the sports administrators and themselves for accepting the position in the first place.

The latest casualty, Roelant Oltmans, is no exception. He said he knew he could be thrown out at any time and he was prepared for it. It looks as if the script is prepared and well-rehearsed by both the outgoing coach and the HI management.

Like in cricket, hockey too has a couple of excellent statisticians and one of them produced a stunner — that the country, in the last two decades, replaced as many as 23 coaches! That certainly is some dubious record.

Pakistan sacked its foreign coaches like changing inner garments. See where its hockey is today. They are happy if they beat India and vice-versa the Indians. Both have reduced their international hockey to a two-country contest.

No international hockey side visits either India or Pakistan for bilateral tours. In India’s case, the big guns come and play in FIH-run tournaments because of its fast increasing clout with its increasing money power.

The difference between cricket and hockey is that the former found the market first and the latter the position as the first non-European hockey chief with highly ambitious Narendra Batra selling other hockey nations a dream, like a good businessman that he is, to become the FIH president.

What prompted the latest upheaval? It is reduced to unexpected losses to Malaysia and Canada. Was that the reason enough to boot the coach out? The IHF found a new way of breathing down the neck of the chief coach. A high performance director is let loose on him. Oltmans was used by the HI to kick out his predecessor, Australian Terry Walsh. Before the two, Paul van Ass, Michael Nobbs and Jose Brasa came and went, some with a couple of good results, but all of them carried their resignation letters in their pockets like carrying their passports wherever they went.

When national cricket selectors rested/dropped seven players for the recent tour to Sri Lanka, saying the selectors were looking for a squad of some 20 solid players by the year-end so that they can firm up the 2019 World Cup squad, there were no protests, only murmurs. One only saw an interview by a top player, how insecure he felt with the way he had been treated.

Oltmans does not have the luxury Ravi Shastri has as coach or the captain Virat Kohli has on the players. The Dutch said he was looking at the bench strength from the squads that he took to Azlan Shah, the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in London and the tour of Europe so that he could find the right mix for the Asia Cup in October and then the Hockey World League finals in December.

Wonder why someone did not raise a hue and cry over India’s fishy 2-3 loss Canada after beating the same team 3-0 at the pool stage at the Hockey World League (HWL). It could simply be complacency, India having qualified for the final, lacked motivation whereas Canada had to win to make the grade.

The players are now in private telling their favourite media men that Oltmans’ sell-by date had come. Some Indian coaches who assisted the Dutchman are also out to settle scores with him.

Three senior players were part of the committee that reviewed the performance and they all reportedly had a whole lot of complaints against Oltmans, now that they know he is not there anymore. One of the charges apparently is that he carried and shielded some deadwood.

It only proves that there is a Kohli in hockey, too, and his writ runs when it comes to picking a coach or sacking one. If players sit in judgment over coaches you can imagine the chaos. And the committee seemed to have reposed more faith in the players than calling the coach and confronting him.

Oltmans could not have survived as the Dutch national coach and guided the team to win the Olympic and World Cup gold. The coaches get away as long as the results are forthcoming on a regular basis. The impatient HI found it difficult to carry on with him.

For now, the Indian federation found another High Performance Director to take over from Oltmans and he might soon be confirmed as the coach and find another director to keep him on his toes or on tenterhooks!

(The writer is a veteran commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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