Enjoying what I’m doing — Felix

The former India hockey skipper spoke freely about his Olympic journey and what India needs to do to pull itself out of the trouble that it finds itself in.

Former India hockey captain Jude Felix.   -  R. RAVINDRAN

Jude Felix had just submitted his resignation as assistant coach of the Indian hockey team before coming in as the chief guest for an inter-school athletics meet in Chennai.

Refusing to speak about the issue, one of India’s most accomplished centre-half, nevertheless, spoke freely about his Olympic journey and what India need to do to pull themselves out of the trouble that they find themselves in.

The 49-year-old, who has played over 250 International matches, now seems to be enjoying his coaching in St. Mary’s orphanage in Bengaluru.

“I have a fantastic team of volunteers, many of them former National players based in Bengaluru. We have completed eight years. It is great joy to see the smile on the face of the kids,” he said.

Your first meeting with a sporting icon?

It was not one player. It was the entire Indian hockey team. It was a nice experience, way back in 1980. The team, after winning the gold medal in Moscow Olympics had come to my school, St. Germain High (Bangalore). That is definitely one of the best moments when I saw the top players. We garlanded all the players; being a centre-half, I garlanded the team’s centre-forward.

Your first international game, or first milestone?

Playing a four-nation seniors tournament in London in 1984-85; and of course scoring the first goal in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in 1985 against Malaysia. That was a nice feeling. Playing for the National team is definitely a milestone.

Your stint as a captain?

I didn’t even realise that I was going to be made the captain of the Indian team. They literally called me out of retirement in 1993. It was the Poland World Cup Qualifier. It was a nice feeling, when you least expect and they make you the captain. I didn’t want to be the captain because they had a guy already. They forced it on me and I took it as an honour. It was a great experience captaining the team. I still feel the team which played in the 1994 World Cup was fantastic; absolute and total unity. There was no senior-junior.

There was nothing of that sort. It was a team where we walked together, ate together. We performed well and finished fifth. We haven’t come anywhere close to that performance in World Cups after that.

Your memory of competing in the Olympics?

The sad part is that in the 1988 Olympics, we just needed a draw to qualify for the semi-finals against Great Britain; we lost and GB went on to win the gold medal. We finished fifth. That is still in memory.

The 1992 Olympics was a total disaster. The team was doing extremely well. In all tournaments before the event, we were on a 19-0 win-loss record. So, what happened eventually (finishing seventh) was a big disappointment.

On the Asian Games?

It was the lowest point as a captain of the 1994 Asian Games. We played extremely well in the final before losing to Korea. That was a real low for me. We had defeated Korea in the group match, but lost to them in the final. We played them (Korea) three times in a matter of 20 days, and lost the most important match.

On the sacking of coach Paul van Ass?

No comments.

On Gurbah Singh’s suspension.

No, that will go on and on…

On Hockey India’s functioning?

I don’t want to comment.

The way forward for the Indian team.

We need to do a lot more professional grass-roots programs across the country. That needs to be done.

Indian team’s chances in the Rio Olympics?

They have to be innovative. They cannot be one-track in their own way of playing. They have to be consistent.

If you had the authority, what will you change?

I would do everything right. We cannot afford to do anything wrong.

On giving back to the sport?

I am good at this (coaching). That is my strength. I just want to coach the poor kids (at St. Mary’s Orphanage). It’s a challenge to coach the kids who come from a troubled background. It is a way of giving back to the sport.

We are in the process of opening another academy for girls. We want to use hockey as a tool to teach life skills. I have a fantastic team of volunteers, many of them former National players based in Bengaluru. We have completed eight years. It is a great joy to see the smiling faces of the kids.