Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey: World wants to see India vs Pakistan contests; still a charm to it 

Hockey India’s president Dilip Tirkey talks about the future of India v Pakistan matches, impact of head coach Craig Fulton and more.

Published : Aug 14, 2023 14:42 IST , Chennai - 6 MINS READ

Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey is optimistic about the men’s team’s future under new head coach Craig Fulton.
Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey is optimistic about the men’s team’s future under new head coach Craig Fulton. | Photo Credit: HOCKEY INDIA

Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey is optimistic about the men’s team’s future under new head coach Craig Fulton. | Photo Credit: HOCKEY INDIA

Sportstar caught up with Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey on the sidelines of the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai to talk about Craig Fulton, the revival of the Hockey India League (HIL), the future of India-Pakistan bilaterals, and more.

It’s still early days into the Craig Fulton era. What have you made of the progress made by the Indian men’s team and their style?

Craig Fulton is a very experienced coach in world hockey. He helped Ireland qualify for the Olympics after a very long time, and he was the assistant at Belgium for many years. It’s a big deal to be a coach for a long time with a top team. He would have gained plenty of experience with them. Belgium became champions in all major tournaments during that time. Day-by-day, we are seeing improvements from the Indian team during his time here. The Asian Games is a very important tournament for India, with Olympic qualification at stake, and we wish that all players play better hockey under Fulton.

When will official talks start about HIL, and what is the progress made in terms of logistics, teams, and talks with other associations?

Hockey India’s main agenda is to revive HIL. Big Bank Media Ventures Pvt. Ltd. has already come on board as the commercial and marketing partner. The men’s league will have eight teams. And we are also planning to have a women’s version with four teams. We feel that HIL will have a worldwide reach, and for the Indian youth, the tournament will provide plenty of exposure. We had asked for a window from the FIH last year, but we weren’t able to get it then. We will try again. Once we get the window, we will move forward from there. Talks are ongoing about where those eight teams will be; we are getting plenty of approaches, including from corporate sectors. In six months, there will be more developments, and we will have an announcement on the same.

The appointment of Paddy Upton as the mental conditioning coach was a first for Indian hockey. Will we see a similar arrangement for the women’s hockey team?

Of course. We will take help from him too [for the women’s team]. Upton is currently with the men’s team on a short-term deal. If the women’s team also needs him, we will take help from him for them.

Odisha has done a commendable job of fostering a thriving hockey ecosystem. It helps that it has provinces that have been traditional hotbeds for talent in the sport. Chennai was, too, and this tournament has also sparked discussion on where the sport goes from here in the state. Does Hockey India plan to keep working with HUTN to continue what the ACT being hosted here has started?

Firstly, the infrastructure and then hockey fans in the city are also very important. I know from 1995 until 2007, hockey had plenty of craze in Chennai. I myself have played in the 1995 SAFF Games and even in the 2007 Asia Cup and have seen the craze among the public, and for whatever reason, there has been no hockey here until the Asian Champions Trophy. You are seeing how we have had a really good tournament thanks to the state government’s support. We wish that Chennai, as a venue with a hockey history, fans, and support, will be revived as a hockey centre. We wish we could similarly revive hockey in other traditional centres and bring international hockey to those places.

Will the Poligras turf be implemented in other centres as well going forward?

Of course. For international hockey, we need two turfs, including a training surface. We will guide whichever state wants to come forward. We also wish that more international hockey comes to India, and wherever hockey used to be played, there should be turfs.

Hockey India wishes that we can grow the game in every place. We want to organise events and implement our grassroots programme, which we want to strengthen in those places. If you talk about events, we are making approaches too and have spoken to state governments. Like the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, where renovation work wasn’t done for many years and wasn’t fit for international hockey. But when the talk of competition [Asian Champions Trophy] came about, the Tamil Nadu government showed interest, and they have now renovated the stadium. 

Hockey India introduced sub-junior teams recently as part of the grassroots programme. Was the initiative your brainchild?

The grassroots programme is very important, and we won’t get quality players otherwise. We create teams in U-21 and then the senior teams. Kids play from the age of 16 to 19 or 20. There is a gap of five years, which we need to address. We need to train them properly in areas like fitness, modern hockey, and tactics and give them the required exposure. We wish to instill confidence in them by giving them importance and responsibility. How else will they develop? They need to have the interest to play for India sub-juniors first. It’s a continued process and a long-term plan.

Recently, Rajpal Singh said that you are cultivating a good environment, which might make him want to come be part of your vision. Is there a pipeline to bring former national team players on board?

When I was elected president, I had two main objectives. The first one was to revive HIL, and the second was to reorganise the grassroots programme. But the grassroots programme doesn’t have competition. We have zonal championships. We are conducting special programmes for dragflicking and goalkeeping. In modern hockey, whichever teams have good dragflickers, they dominate world hockey. We know this, so why not train them at an early age for this? For this programme, we are looking to set up a centre and even requested Rupinder Pal Singh, like how we recently did a short programme in Odisha. We will do it in different states too. And goalkeeping is also very important. Any former players who are interested in coaching are always always welcome

The Asian Champions Trophy has seen the Pakistan team come down and play without issues, and they were welcomed quite well in India too. Can hockey set a template for its cricket counterpart? With this success, can India and Pakistan play a Test series at any time in the near future?

Yes, definitely. We would like to play them because the world wants to see India vs. Pakistan contests. There is still a charm to it and interest among the fans. Even through the difficulties [of the current political climate], India and Pakistan are playing here. In the future too, we can organise test series between the nations in India with the approval of the government, which will be great for the future of hockey.

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