Narinder Dhruv Batra, on Saturday, became the first Indian to head the international federation of an Olympic sport after being voted as the president of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) by a majority members at the 45th FIH Congress in Dubai.
Batra polled 68 of the 118 eligible votes in the three-corner election for a near majority, convincingly defeating Ireland's David Balbirnie (29) and Australia's Ken Read (13), both long-time FIH members. It was the culmination of months of criss-crossing across the world, garnering support for an Asian to lead the sport's administration that has traditionally been dominated by Europeans with the last few FIH presidents all being from the continent.
While Indians have headed international federations before — N. Ramachandran was president of the World Squash Federation for two terms while several Indians have been presidents of the ICC — this is the first time an Indian has taken charge of an Olympic sport.
The election, in a way, is the culmination of Batra's ambitions of not only putting Indian hockey on the world stage on field but also make it a power centre for the sport off it. For long, Batra has insisted that given the popularity, financial clout and spread that Indian hockey enjoys, it should be a leader in terms of decision-making as well. “If Indian helps hockey to survive, it should get its due,” he had said.
Despite his almost two-decade long association with the sport as the president of Jammu & Kashmir hockey, Batra first came into the spotlight in 2005 after challenging the might of KPS Gill as the erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) president. He had questioned Gill's decisions, opposed his flouting of the federation constitution and sought financial auditing. India's failure to qualify for the 2008 Olympics triggered the downfall of Gill and brought Batra into the forefront, along with Hockey India as the new federation.
Having been part of the cricket administration, Batra understood the importance of marketing and packaging while also knowing how to make full use of the country's financial might. The Hockey India League (HIL) was not the first franchise-based hockey event in India (it was preceded by the Premier Hockey League in 2005) but definitely the best known.
Not surprisingly, Batra made expanding the reach and revenue of hockey across the world his primary goal as the new FIH president. “If we have to grow, I think the boundaries need to be stretched now. We have a good lot of 12-14 countries at the top but we need to spread the base and increase viewer share and concentrate on television and social media for that,” he said soon after.
An emotional Batra, who lost his son last year in Morocco during a family vacation, couldn't hold back his tears after the result. “This jacket I am wearing today is of my son...I am really proud of him,” he said before welling up while announcing arrangements for the next FIH Congress, to be hosted in Delhi in 2018.
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