Narinder Batra: ‘My innings with Hockey India is over’

Batra spoke to Sportstar about his experience as the president of FIH so far, the way ahead and his categorical refusal to return to national administration.

FIH president Narinder Batra says he is focussing on marketing of the sport and expanding its reach.   -  PTI

It's been just over three months since Narinder Batra took charge as the International Hockey Federation (FIH) president, becoming the first-ever Indian to head the international body of an Olympic sport.

Since then, the former Hockey India president has been raking up the air-miles and criss-crossing the world as he sets about to make the FIH a profitable organisation and expand the sport to further corners. On the occasion of the first-ever Hockey Stars event to award the annual FIH player awards, Batra spoke to Sportstar about his experience so far, the way ahead and his categorical refusal to return to national administration.

Q: How has it been being in charge of the FIH for the last three months?

To be honest I don't see any change in my working. It's just moving from one office to another, that's the only change. The hockey in India is the same as world over. But yes, you get involved in different continents, different cultures, different ways of thinking and that is something I have to get used to and understand it and respect it all. But the overall experience has been good, really good.

Have you worked out on how you would balance the world interests of FIH with Indian hockey's interests?

It's not about balancing Indian interests with anything. What I have always said is that I am an Indian at heart and that won't change. If someone says that now as world president you have to lose that Indian-ness then that cannot happen. But as far as events are concerned, we will have to bid like everyone else and win. That's what Hockey India has been doing all this while and the system will remain the same. My aim is to expand hockey and that can be in Asia, Europe, Africa or Oceania. I was always clear about the way ahead as an elected executive board member. Marketing of the sport and expanding its reach are the lines I am focussing on moving forward and this is what I would like to do for the next 4 years.

This is the first edition of Hockey India League since you quit hockey India. How would you review the entire conduct and reception of the HIL?

I think it's going well. I am following all the matches, I see it everyday either on television or online. As for the final outcome with regards to TV ratings or viewership, that normally comes about three weeks after an event ends, so we will have to see about that. I see it doing well going ahead but earlier also it was a team effort, so there is no question of me being there or not. Even in life, people and situations keep changing and it will be the same in HI. But the systems are in place and there are good people handling it.

In India, people say no one ever gives up their post but I am not in that category.

What about the expansion of HIL? Also, some of the teams this time put in less than optimum effort. Is there any chance of a change among the existing teams as well?

Hockey India eventually wants to take the HIL to a maximum of eight franchises because there is a lot of logistics also involved. The seventh team, Bengaluru, is already signed and sealed but for the eighth one, negotiations are on with 3-4 venues, let's see what happens. As for the existing ones, there isn't going to be any change to the best of my knowledge, but if there has been some development, I am not aware of it.

The one thing that has been a big concern is the continued ignorance of South India. There is no HIL there as of now and no city down south has hosted a major international tournament in almost a decade. In contrast, Bhubaneswar and Ranchi have had active calendars...

It's not about South India being ignored. I have been in talks with the State governments down there for a long time now, we have tried to explain and make them understand so many times. Bangalore still hasn't laid a new turf. Chennai, Hyderabad – no one has changed their turfs or laid a second one. You need a second turf for international events for at least practice. You can only take tournaments to places where the pitches are approved by the FIH. You cannot have international tournaments on 10 to 12-year-old turfs. Despite our best efforts, if it doesn't register on concerned people there what can I do? We have met and requested everyone concerned but sadly I don't think sports or at least hockey is a priority for them.

But if things do work out, how open is Hockey India and the FIH to taking tournaments to the South?

I cannot say anything till the infrastructure works out. But HI has always had it in its agenda to branch out to South. We also have people from Guwahati, Chhattisgarh,, Hyderabad in talks and the HIL could go anywhere.

What kind of support are you looking from States in spreading the game across India?

Hockey or any sport, besides cricket, cannot survive without government support. Sports being a State subject, states also need to get active. During my tenure, we have had a few States — Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana to name a few – who support hockey. Others have their teams but I don't see any support coming, whether in infrastructure, development or coaching. I think if they get involved, the pace at which we want hockey to grow will be a bit different.

What about your association with Hockey India? Does it continue?

See, there are protocols that say you have to give up national posts if you have to contest for the international body and so I did. As far as I know, my innings with Hockey India is over. Even after I give up this FIH president post at the end of the tenure, I don't think I will be back in HI. Coming back to HI, I don't see that happening. People in HI will will have to manage on their own and it's time for them to understand that it's time now for them to grow. But me coming back to active administration is a no and I think that would be setting a bad example.

If Indian hockey needs my support or anything from outside I can and will always do it because hockey is in my blood. If they need any assistance or in an advisory capacity I will be more than happy. In India, people say no one ever gives up their post but I am not in that category.