He came in as a replacement candidate and has only two years but new FIH president Tayyab Ikram has hit the ground running in the first 60 days of his tenure. With almost four decades of association with hockey in various capacities, Ikram knows the challenges he faces as the sport fights for relevance and popularity in a changing world.
“I have already had open, frank conversations with more than 80 national team captains so far. It is an amazing community and it also gave me a realisation that I am not as fully prepared to take up this role the way they are. I have engaged with almost all stakeholders, the national Olympic committees and have had a fantastic response from them so far. It has been a hectic time but I am happy with the things I have seen in the last two months,” Ikram said.
He is also clear about his priorities and reviewing the FIH event portfolio is one of them. “We are a federation of 140 countries at the moment and my first priority is to ensure that the FIH is relevant to all 140 countries. Second, to engage our athletes in a more positive way not just in hockey skills but also providing them the best opportunity to perform and see if hockey is ready to provide them with more career opportunities going ahead.
“The third is the event portfolio. There is a lot of demand for a review and there is an appetite for certain tournaments. The Nations Cup is a step in the right direction. There will be a consultation process that will start in March. We used to have a lot of teams in the World Series and the World League like Fiji, Italy and Belarus and those teams would like to come back for FIH tournaments,” he said.
ALSO READ - IND v ENG: Back-to-back clean sheets an achievement, says Reid
Ikram’s various previous roles — in the FIH, the Asian Hockey Confederation, the Olympic Council of Asia and the IOC — have ensured the Macau-based administrator has a close understanding of various requirements. Having multiple variants of the sport is one of them.
“Yes there were certain concerns that Hockey 5s was threatening other forms of the game like the traditional format or indoor hockey. But now all countries are adapting to it. It is also a tool for development. In the Youth Olympic Games, Zambia was beating Germany, a self-funded team like Canada won at the Nanjing edition. These are strong messages for us that we are bridging the gap and I think everyone is on board. The FIH is putting all its efforts in every format,” he added.
Asked about adding more competitions to the international calendar, Ikram said, “It’s true that the window is very congested but we are not discouraging any countries from proposing 4-6 nation events. We have the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the Sultan of Johor Cup for the juniors, which are being continued. We have had a proposal from Hockey India for another tournament but we do not have a concrete proposal yet.
“There is already some discussion to find a window for the Hockey India League but we are still waiting for it and we will look at it because hockey in India has a professional way to organise it. HIL gave us a big boost, let’s see how it combines with the Pro League because the biggest question is the availability of athletes,” he said.
He was also clear that there were no plans to increase the number of teams from the current 16 in the World Cup. “But we may consider a mini World Cup. We may also need to modify the way we address and handle continental events, which are World Cup qualifiers but we have never called them so, which other federations do. So, in a way, all countries are already part of the World Cup process, we just need to look at them differently,” he said.
EXPLAINED - Why is Pakistan not playing World Cup in Odisha?
The FIH president also put to rest questions raised about the Birsa Munda International Stadium being the largest in capacity. “With 21,800 seats, you don’t have this seating capacity anywhere in the world, that’s official,” he declared.
Tribute to B. G. Joshi
In any sport report, statistics add valuable insights to a match. Hockey, despite its popularity and long-standing history, is one of the rare sports where statistics aren’t easily accessible. One man who painstakingly made notes of every possible number in the game was B. G. Joshi.
As the 15th men’s World Cup got underway in Odisha — the first without Joshi, who passed away in 2021 — the Press Box in Rourkela came together to pay tribute to the statistician ahead of India’s opening game. A handmade framed photo of Joshi along with a jersey with the words ‘B. G. Joshi 1954-2021’ emblazoned on it was hung from one of the desks.
Former colleagues and friends fondly remembered Joshi, his love for the sport and statistics, which he was happy to share with anyone who approached him. A minute’s silence was observed in his memory. FIH president Tayyab Ikram, too, honoured Joshi’s work in a press conference ahead of India’s match against England.
The Odisha Government has turned the Hockey World Cup into a statewide festival. It was not just the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and the Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela that have been adorned with lights to give the venues a gorgeous look. The two cities have also been decorated spectacularly to build a matching atmosphere. Fan parks, selfie zones, food stalls, clothes and merchandising along with live performances by various local and national level artistes make the two cities hot destinations.
The State Government has carefully planned and directed the district administrations to coincide their annual cultural programmes with the HWC. Large screen television sets have been put up at various places in the State. The well-publicised event, happening in the State for the second consecutive time and on a much larger scale, has witnessed a high demand for match tickets and near-packed houses for even non-India matches.