With the latest FIH Presidential election between Dr Narinder Batra and Marc Coudron, the answer is a definite and resounding NO!
On the 18th of May 1860 the United States Republicans voted after a third ballot for Abraham Lincoln to be their Presidential candidate; he would go on to become the United States 16thPresident.
The favourite in the Republican election for the presidential tilt had been William Seward, but Lincoln’s victory had blindsided him and his supporters. It was dubbed “the night of a thousand knives.”
At the International Hockey Federation’s Congress held in Dubai in 2016 Dr. Narinder Batra was elected the sporting organization’s first Asian President in an election dubbed by a few who knew their history as the “night of a thousand hockey sticks.”
The reason is simple, explains Ashley Morrison of Not The Footy Show; this is alleged to have been one of the incentives given by those lobbying on his behalf to the lesser hockey nations for their vote. Other alleged incentives were funding support for their hockey programs; support that they should have been receiving anyway in a bid to grow the game.
Immediately after his election and the announcement that the 2018 Congress would be held in Delhi, India, Dr. Batra’s home city and at a hotel that his family had interests in. Dr. Batra returned to the stage and announced, “What we intend to do in India is that we are going to offer all member countries, when I say all I mean all 139 country members two rooms, one double and one single as complimentary full board. Which means including breakfast, lunch and dinner along with four pieces of laundry each day, to see that, to ensure that the family stays together.”
Despite many a raised eyebrow querying whether this was a gross conflict of interest, no one said a word. The tone was set for the next four years.
Now is not the time to go through the vision given by Dr. Batra in his pre-election speech, but one of his key platforms was that he was going to grow the reach of the game as President. He also stated that the “Home and Away League which is happening, I am a big supporter of that. This is also going to attract big revenue for FIH and maybe it trickles down to the Member countries.”
The Home and Away league that he was talking about became the FIH Pro League. India along with Pakistan under controversial circumstances were selected as being two of the nine men’s nations to compete in the inaugural League. (Looking For Answers) India’s women one of the nine women’s teams.
India would withdraw before the first game started. Pakistan would follow soon after the league was underway. The official reason for the withdrawal of India was that the competition would not be beneficial for their women’s team. The belief amongst many fans was that the new President of the FIH was flexing his muscles following a slap on the wrist for comments made on social media during the Champions Trophy and a pending internal investigation.
Some who claim to be close to Dr. Batra claim he never thought that India’s withdrawal would be accepted. The impact on the league was substantial as the revenue from the highest paying television station Star Sports dried up.
India was welcomed back to the fold for the second season of the FIH Pro League; no other countries being given the option to submit for inclusion.
After year one the FIH Pro League was in dire straits. The FIH were in financial difficulty because of it, and so too were many of the participating nations.
In addition the Hockey World League in which the lower ranked nations competed at a meaningful tournament and had the opportunity to progress was canned. It would be replaced by the Hockey Series Open, now that too has subsequently been shut down. So too has the Hockey India League closed down, one of the few competitions where the top players in the world were financially rewarded.
So the growing of the game promise has been questionable. With next to no new sponsors coming onboard, Star Sports involvement being heavily reduced, and Hero also reducing their levels of sponsorship the FIH was sliding downhill.
The executive board and many of the member nations had hitched their wagon to India in the belief that money from India would be its lifeblood. It was always going to be a risky move. (Oh Dear Sir)
To make their predicament even worse then Covid-19 hit. The Executive Board cancelled their meeting in Lausanne because of the Pandemic, but the FIH Pro League continued!
In fact the 2020 season of the FIH Pro League still continues despite the fact that the competition has lost all credibility. Squad rules have been ignored, so too the rules regarding teams playing each other outside of the competition. Even how the outcome of the extended completion will be decided has been altered to try and come up with a winner! It has been a complete disaster; the only plus being that those who are able to play have had some warm up games prior to the Olympic Games. Players, coaches, and fans simply no longer care about the competition itself; that is if they know games are taking place!
Incredibly for a man who espoused to be taking the game globally the FIH Executive Board announced that the 2020 Congress would once again be held in India and once again at the hotel that the current President’s family has interests in, and the member nations again, despite the President being up for re-election would receive the same deal on accommodation!
However the Pandemic meant that on the 8thof May 2020 the FIH announced that the Congress would be pushed back until May 2021. The member nations again sat back and seemed to accept this decision even though other International Sporting Federations had amended their statues to allow on-line voting.
At the start of April 2021 the FIH offered its members the chance to attend the Congress in person in New Delhi or remotely amid the restrictions placed on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. This was a bizarre situation, and one that saw skeptics wonder who and why would anyone make the trip to Delhi at such a time?
At the end of the same month it was announced that the Congress would be held virtually, resulting in those same skeptics asking why the sport had to wait a year to reach such an outcome?
A challenger was then announced to Dr. Batra’s Presidency. Respected former Belgian International Marc Coudron, who had been voted off the board in 2016. His platform boldly was built around honesty and integrity. Could Abraham Lincoln’s nickname and moral standards have been resonating with Coudron? Lincoln’s nickname was “Honest Abe.” It was a nickname that he embraced with pride. He believed in his own integrity and worked diligently to maintain his reputation as an honest politician and lawyer. Coudron appeared to be a man with similar beliefs.
On the 22ndof April 2021 the Agenda for the Congress was published. One item listed was that “A vote on the admission of the following nations as new FIH Members: Gambia, Saudi Arabia and Timor Leste.”
The admission of the Indonesian Hockey Federation was also to be tabled. During the Congress it was rejected. Although incredibly this vote was held twice, which seemed most extraordinary. Ultimately the outcome was the same. All of the other nations were given full membership of the FIH.
There was a key point linked to these admissions to Membership and that read as follows:
“As specified in the FIH Statutes (article 2.2(a)(ii)), newly approved Members present at Congress will have the right to participate in meetings of Congress and to cast a vote on resolutions put to Congress.” But did this mean that they could vote at this Congress?
In the FIH Statutes (article 2.2 (b) (ii) it states that the new members: “must pay when due all Member subscriptions decided upon by Congress and any other monies due and owing to the FIH. Any Member that has failed to pay any part of any subscription or other debt when due for payment to the FIH: (A) may not enter any team in an International Event without the approval of the Executive Board, unless it settles all such debts at least ninety (90) days before the start of the International Event in question; and (B) may not attend (and so may not vote at) any meeting of Congress unless the full amount owing is paid (in fully cleared funds) at least 24 hours before the start of the meeting;”
This raises a number of issues. First of all why were these nations logged in online prior to being awarded membership? By all means watch via the Watch Hockey app. As the statutes state that they cannot attend any meeting unless fees are paid 24 hours before the meeting starting.
We also know that these nations after they were elected voted, as the CEO and staff from LUMI advised all watching that they were now included.
How was it possible that these nations could have paid their membership in advance, as they were not guaranteed to be accepted as members? Even if they paid the fee after their election and in the subsequent hour before the Presidential election, they still were not entitled to vote as the payment was not 24 hours prior.
Why have none of the Member Nations or Confederations questioned this?
Prior to the elections, which seemed strange when the Presidency was up for grabs, the FIH announced its honorary awards winners. With three associations receiving such an award along with other key individuals who would also have a vote come the Presidential election the timing of these awards is questionable. Then the Presidents Awards were also announced prior to the Presidential election. Surely these should have been announced after the vote? Once again it appears that the member nations remained silent.
Come the election, Dr. Batra’s presentation was screened first, and we were told due to alphabetical reasons. Yet it was interesting to watch him putting across arguments that were clearly going to be put forward by Mr. Coudron in his presentation.
Then the member nations that were logged in were invited to vote. To be the winner the candidate had to have an absolute majority. Remarkably Dr. Batra achieved exactly the amount required. Of the 124 votes, including those from the three newly elected Members, Dr. Batra attained the required absolute majority of more than half the votes, receiving 63 votes to the 61 given to Marc Coudron of Belgium.
Presuming that the three new members voted for Dr Batra, and these votes were void then Marc Coudron would have had 61 votes to Dr. Batra’s 60, out of a total of 121.
Since the announcement of the result there have understandably been many nations, confederations and hockey players who have been upset with the outcome, something that is normal in any election.
Fans across the globe went to social media to demand to know how their nation voted. Constitutionally this information cannot be revealed, as the ballot is a secret one.
Yet clearly there is a question over how the new members were permitted to vote in contravention of the FIH’s own statutes. Also what needs to be asked is which 124 nations were online when the voting took place. There is nothing to prevent the FIH publishing this fact, as they would willingly reveal who attended congress in person.
There are questions as to why the four nations up for membership of the FIH were already logged in online prior to their membership being accepted? Even more so the Indonesian Hockey Federation as they are not the official body of that country and that was what the vote was to decide. Did the other three nations votes sway the election?
In addition why were only 124 nations of the FIH’s 140 member nations – including the newly elected three nations – on line to vote? Which were the 16 nations absent at such an important time?
Surely those hockey players, umpires and clubs who are constantly told they are part of the ‘FIH family’ and ‘FIH Community’ around the globe have a right to know which nations were online and voted and who was missing? Also how the newly elected members were allowed to vote?
Unfortunately there is a strong feeling that the honesty and integrity that Marc Coudron was advocating has been challenged and beaten once again, this time via the on-line voting system.
Is it a coincidence that the two individuals from outside the Executive Board who stood against current incumbents did not get voted in?
In both cases the votes cast by the new members of the FIH had the potential to affect the outcome, The question is did it?
In order to quell the rumblings and allegations more so than ever before the Hockey world want to see some transparency. Why has no member nation or Confederation spoken up? How many Hockey sticks has their silence cost?
If the national associations and their representative Confederations are going to remain silent at a time when the sport is teetering financially and faith in those leading the game appears to be wavering, then what hope is there for the game ever fulfilling Dr. Batra’s dream of growing globally and attracting big revenue?
The President and his board, as well as those who represented the Hockey community in the elections would be wise to heed the advice of ‘Honest Abe,’ when he said, “Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality… Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”
Sadly at this point in time skepticism is triumphing in the world of hockey.