Hockey sticks are for hitting the ball, not men

STEM this rot. This should be the stern message to the Indian Hockey Federation to deal with violence on and off the field. If a reminder was needed it came with shocking impact in the Jawaharlal Nehru tournament. The fracas between players of Namdhari XI and IOC — whatever be the provocation — is symbolic of the malaise that is creeping into competitive hockey, especially in this country.

To justify such acts as being not abnormal, and even universal, is just ducking the issue. They need to be probed seriously and the guilty must be punished. Unless this is done, there will be no deterrent to indiscipline, which is becoming endemic.

This is not to suggest that the hockey authorities remain impervious even when the media focuses on such abominable acts of violence in graphic detail. What occurred at the Nehru tournament is well documented to show the depth to which the sporting ethos has plunged.

Disturbing is the absence of any worthwhile reaction from the federation to the event that clearly besmirched the image of hockey. Actually, the IHF should have acted spontaneously, within a few hours of the event, without waiting for a detailed report from the Tournament Director.

Possibly, there could have been an element of dilemma whether it would be right to initiate a probe because what happened was off the field. Also, the teams that clashed were not involved in the match.

Taking such a stand would be pure escapism that does nobody, least of all the administration, any good. On the contrary, the IHF would do well to constitute at least a panel to go into the incidents after asking the Tournament Director to submit the details. With so much of evidence available both in the print and the electronic media, it would not be difficult to identify an individual or even the group, which indulged in the kind of mayhem that one witnessed on the small screen.

Astonishing, however, has been the recurrence of violence on and off the field. Not long ago, everyone was stunned by the way Kanwalpreet Singh went after Deepak Thakur. So violent was Kanwal's assault that the federation showed no qualms in imposing a two-year ban. Again the scrap involving Gagan Ajit Singh and Bikramjit Singh after the match in the National championship at Hyderabad brought the former under the axe.

But shockingly, neither player served his suspension in full. The IHF lifted it as to make the Punjab Police duo available for the national team.

That pull back put the IHF in line for flak from all quarters. The administrators were projected as soft and inconsistent, giving the players the feeling that they could get away with anything in the end. This is the odium that the IHF, headed as it is by a seasoned and renowned police officer as K. P. S. Gill, should obliterate. For that the IHF has to be seen as giving primacy to maintaining discipline for all concerned.

It is agreed that a robust sport like hockey generates rough and tough methods leading to frayed tempers. A lot, however, depends on how the umpires exercise control and ensure that nothing spills beyond the permissible limit. The umpires are empowered to warn and issue cards according to the degree of indiscipline.

Unfortunately, players in India suffer from a mindset conditioned to remonstrate any ruling by the umpire. Instances of umpire bashing are too many to be catalogued.

On a larger perspective, enforcing player discipline on and off the field is a complex issue. To conceive a readymade solution is easily said, but difficult to implement. For instance, the International Hockey Federation took serious note of the incident in which the Australian player, Craig Victory, received severe facial and dental injuries after being tackled by the Pakistani captain, Muhammad Saqlain, in the four-nation tournament at Hamburg in August last.

The matter, based on a report by the Tournament Director, Alain Renaud, was referred to the Judicial Commission, which slapped a three-match ban on the Pakistani.

The suspension, coming as it did before the Champions Trophy in Chennai, shocked the Pakistani establishment, which approached the Court of Arbitration (CAS) in the International Olympic Committee and earned a reprieve for the player.

Probably, the best course left for the IHF is to create a permanent panel empowered to hear the complaints and respond appropriately with its verdict. It will get more teeth if headed by an eminent judge. Any decision by this panel can even have a legal cover and sanctity, inhibiting the accused from taking recourse to a lengthy battle in courts.

But, eventually, the question remains, "Can sport be sheltered from violence?"

"No," says, Dr. Jano Kamuti, an Olympic theoretician, sports medicine expert and a renowned fencer, "until there is a realisation that victory at any price cannot be a true source of satisfaction."