India sweeps FIH annual awards; men's Olympic champion Belgium raises eyebrows

Five Indian players and the head coaches of both the men's and women's teams in Tokyo claimed the top honours across different categories.

Harmanpreet Singh celebrates a goal at the Tokyo Olympics.   -  REUTERS

India swept the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) annual awards on Wednesday, claiming the top honours in all the categories based on a system of voting which was lambasted as a "failure" by men's Olympic champions Belgium.

Five Indian players and the head coaches of both the men's and women's teams in Tokyo claimed the top honours across different categories after fetching the maximum votes. The men's hockey team had won a bronze, its first in 41 years, in the Tokyo Olympics, while the women's side had finished an unprecedented fourth in the showpiece.

Harmanpreet Singh won the men's 'Player of the Year' award and Gurjit Kaur was recognised as the best player in the women's section. Veteran PR Sreejesh and Savita Punia won the best goalkeeper awards in the men's and women's section, while young striker Sharmila Devi (women) and Vivek Sagar Prasad (men) were adjudged best rising stars.

The drag-click duo of Harmanpreet and Gurjit were the top-scorers in their respective team's stellar run at the Games.

Men's team coach Graham Reid and women's coach Sjoerd Marijne were also voted the best. While Reid is still with the team, Marijne's tenure ended after the Tokyo Games.

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Hockey Belgium reacted sharply to the announcement of the winners and questioned the process as none of their Tokyo Games champions managed to win an award.

"Hockey Belgium is very disappointed with the outcome of @FIH_Hockey Star 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," it tweeted.

The sentiment was shared by the team's official handle as well.

"We fully agree! This is not normal! The credibility and image of our sport is once again facing hard times. It's a pitty (sic) @FIH," stated the Red Lions.

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Votes from National Associations -- represented by their respective national captains and coaches -- accounted for 50 per cent of the overall result, while fans and players (25 per cent) as well as media (25 per cent) made the other half of the votes.

In all, 79 National Associations voted (Africa: 11 out of 25 Member Associations; Asia: 29 out of 33; Europe: 19 out of 42; Oceania: 3 out of 8; Pan America: 17 out of 30), said a statement from FIH.

"And with a record number of almost 300,000 fans casting their votes, fan participation in the FIH Hockey Stars Awards has been exceptional," it added.

The nominations from Belgium (men) and the Netherlands (women), who were not only crowned Olympic Champions but also won the 2020-21 FIH Hockey Pro League, finished behind the Indians once the votes were counted.

Belgium duo of Alexander Hendrickx and Arthur van Doren were voted second and third best players respectively among men, with Vincent Vanasch (Belgium) named second best goalkeeper and Shane McLeod of New Zealand second best coach.

Among women, Eva de Goede and Frederique Matla of the Netherlands clinched the respective second and third places in the Player of the Year awards while Alyson Annan of Australia finished second for the FIH Coach of the Year Award.

Great Britain goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, rising star Fiona Crackles and coach Mark Hager of Australia all were third in their respective categories.

With the FIH Hockey Stars Awards skipped in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 global health pandemic on the international calendar, this year's awards covered the period from January 2020 through to the conclusion of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the FIH said.

"The voting process started on 23 August and concluded on 15 September 2021. Votes from National Associations - represented by their respective national captains and coaches - counted for 50 pe cent of the overall result, while fans and players (25 per cent) as well as media (25 per cent) made the other half of the votes," it added.

Hockey India President Gyanendro Ningombam congratulated the winners.

"This is a great moment for Indian hockey as all our Indian nominees for the FIH Stars Awards have been announced winners.

"After the historic performances in Tokyo by both Indian Men and Women's Hockey teams, the support from Indian fans from across the globe has been overwhelming," he said.

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