What does Batra hold over the FIH?
Following the judgement handed down in the High Court of Delhi last week, one would have expected a statement to have been made by the International Hockey Federation in relation to the findings and their President.
This has nothing to do with personalities or nationalities, but everything to do with transparency and governance.
Those elected to the FIH’s Executive Board have a responsibility to those member federations who elected them. They should be communicating with those member nations in relation to the findings, and the impact they will have on not just the FIH President but also The Indian men’s and women’s teams ability to continue to compete internationally while their National Sports Federation is unconstitutional, and more importantly the sport as a whole.
No official statement has been forthcoming; however, the word is that the CEO has called an Executive Board meeting via video for Thursday 2nd June at 10am Lausanne time to discuss the situation that the World Body finds itself in.
They face a political minefield and undoubtedly a very long conference, as there are a number of essential factors to discuss.
First of all, a year ago, the FIH received a complaint of irregularity filed by IOA vice-president Sudhanshu Mittal, stating that The FIH’s President, Mr Batra, violated the FIH’s statues by holding the post of Hockey India (HI) president when he was elected FIH head in November 2016. The FIH’s own integrity Unit publicly stated that “the independent FIH Integrity Unit (FIU), which today decided that it will not be taking any action regarding FIH President Dr Batra concerning this matter on the basis that the matter is not sustained. Indeed, according to the FIH Statutes at the time, there was no requirement for Dr Batra to change his relationship with Hockey India after he was elected FIH President in November 2016. He, therefore, committed no breach of the procedure or the FIH Statutes.”
However, now that the High Court has found that the position held at that time was illegal, does that void the election, and where does the FIH Integrity Unit stand now? The judgement reads, “The illegal Post of Life President or Life Member cannot be the stepping-stone for any other position or benefit elsewhere, be it nationally (including in the Indian Olympic Association) or in international bodies.”
It would appear that the FIH Integrity Unit will have to react to the findings made in a court of law.
If the view is that Mr Batra was ineligible to stand for election, where does that leave those who lost out to him in 2016? Where do they stand legally, and is the FIH now exposed to the possibility of what could be a very ugly legal challenge?
Then there is the matter of the Judges inserting a Committee of Administrators (“CoA”) to take over Hockey India. The court’s first three instructions of seven state that their responsibilities are:
- Assist in the preparation and adoption of the Constitution of R2 as per the Sports Code and court rulings.
- Prepare the electoral roll/college for the purpose of conducting the elections to the Executive Committee in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, as proposed.
- Carry out the day-to-day governance of R-2.”
R-2 refers to Hockey India.
In 2008 when the Indian Olympic Association suspended the Indian Hockey Federation, the FIH then applied pressure of its own when it was alleged that the then FIH chief Els van Breda Vriesman suggested that the FIH would be unable to work with the Indian Hockey Federation to stage the 2010 World Cup and a hockey promotion project in India while the corruption allegations hung over the IHF.
Is History repeating? India is again set to host the Men’s Hockey World Cup at the start of 2023, so where does the FIH stand on this? The current President cannot pressure the host nation, as they are embroiled in this whole sorry situation.
In 2008 from the Ashes of the IHF came Hockey India. Mr Batra was part of the IHF and resigned when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games. He then was the driver behind Hockey India. He should be credited for the upswing in India’s performances over the past decade and for creating the Hockey India League.
Once Hockey India was recognised, Mr Batra first became Secretary-General and then President.
As the judgement stated, “Yet when Hockey India was registered as a Society under the Societies Registration Act 1860, on 28.05.2009 and was granted prompt recognition by the Government of India within a couple of days thereof, R-3 (Mr Batra) went ahead and had himself appointed as Life Member of Hockey India. This smacks of brazen impertinence to the clear mandate of law. It was a less than honest but futile endeavour to institutionalise oneself in a body whose legitimacy itself is contingent upon conformity with the Sports Code and the law.”
The court case occurred in India because someone believed the proverb “absolute power corrupts absolutely” to be an issue.
The big problem facing the FIH is, like many Western Governments backing leaders in troubled nations, they backed Hockey India and Mr Batra to run hockey following the corruption within the Indian Hockey Federation. The FIH was able to broker a lucrative television deal with Star Sports, which saw three of their staff receive vast bonuses. In return, India hosted an international tournament every year. The sponsors that came into the game were from India. The FIH became heavily dependent on India and Mr Batra’s contacts. So can they now afford to cut the umbilical cord that keeps them alive? (World Cup a Game Of Snakes and Ladders)
If they were to suspend the President, it would be unprecedented.
When question marks were raised about the legitimacy of the teams selected in the FIH Pro League and the letter sent by the FIH Pro League Management Panel was shared with this website. (Looking For Answers) It appeared that the Executive Board agreed on one Participation Agreement, yet it is believed that another was created for one nation. It is alleged that at that time, the Executive Board found itself powerless to challenge this, as 11 of the Board ran the risk of being accused of having a conflict of interest because their National Associations were now a part of the Pro League.
This is why independence and no longer being allowed to maintain those roles with National Associations must be enforced when elected onto an Executive Board. With independence, it is far easier to have transparency, as you are not having to worry about people being accused of having conflicts of interest.
The Executive Board face a challenging meeting on Thursday. They all know the finances of the FIH and how dependent they are on Indian sponsors. They also know that when India play, that is when they attract the highest viewing numbers not only on their own platform but on television stations globally. At a time when they have just asked TV stations to tender for the rights, any sanctions could have a catastrophic impact on the sport. Yet how can a nation whose national association is unconstitutional in a court of law be allowed to continue to compete at this point in time?
Are the games the team has played since the Court ruling valid if they do suspend India?
So the Board is not just faced with the findings of the High Court in Delhi against their President and Hockey India, but also the massive knock-on effect that these findings can have on the game worldwide based on their actions. (The Month That Changed the Game)
Now more than ever, it is vital that the members of the National Associations find their voice and guide those they elected to vote the way they believe is right for the sport in the long term. Clubs should be contacting their National Associations, and the National Associations should be talking to their Confederation representatives on the Executive Board; if those individuals have not already been in touch.
With buy-in from all the members, the best outcome for the sport can be achieved.
Then, moving forward, rather than focussing on a ‘Hockey Revolution,’ the sport needs a Hockey reform. It needs reforms in its Governance as to whom is appointed to the Executive Board and its various committees. With clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not concerning other positions held within the sport and outside of it. Without those foundations in place, the sport will continue to be vulnerable.