Hockey mess: Power games on as coach shown door

Published Jul 21, 2015, 10:27 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 11:42 am IST
I was sacked, claims Dutchman Paul van Ass; Hockey India is still in denial mode
Paul van Ass
 Paul van Ass
New DelhiThe mystery over India hockey coach Paul van Ass’ absence from the national camp under way in Shilaroo, cleared on Monday with the Dutchman claiming that he “had been fired” by the federation a week ago.
In an email to this newspaper, van Ass — who had taken over in April — wrote, “I was fired one week after the tournament in Belgium by Hockey India. I am waiting more than a week on a final and official letter of dismissal.
“I was not invited to lead the camp in Shilaroo. The Sports Authority of India did not sent me a ticket. (High performance director) Roelant Oltmans was asked to replace me,” he said.
The 52-year-old added that he was yet to get an official letter from either HI or employers SAI, and the news was communicated to him through Oltmans. van Ass’ disclosure puts a question mark on the conduct of HI and its president Narinder Batra, who had been claiming that the coach “had abandoned the team and had not notified them of a delay in his arrival”.
HI chief executive Elena Norman even told this paper a few days ago that “Paul must have taken a flight to India on July 16”, denying any knowledge of his sacking. Said van Ass, “I don’t complain (about being fired), but at least take the responsibility that you don’t want me there. I did not step down. I am ready to continue.”
The development highlights the power games and larger than life egotism rampant in Indian hockey, and the fact that it has come with just over 12 months to go for the Olympics further underlines the chaos. van Ass, who led Holland to an Olympic and World Cup silver, thus becomes the fourth coach in the span of four years to be shown the door.
Spain’s Jose Brasa, under whom India played their best hockey in over a decade, was not given an extension despite the coach and the players being keen on it. Michael Nobbs followed and Terry Walsh — India became the first team to qualify for the 2016 Olympics under him — also ran into trouble when he demanded more power and a bigger pay cheque.
All of them had found it difficult to adjust to the Batra-led administration citing “too much interference” and “unreasonable demands”.
Ego games?
It is common knowledge that van Ass and Batra were involved in a “tiff” after India’s 3-2 win over Malaysia on July 1 at the World League semi-finals tournament in Belgium.
On the day, van Ass confirmed the incident saying he was “well within his rights to ask Batra to leave the pitch” as only a coach is allowed to talk to the players immediately after a game.
Asked what he felt was the reason behind his sacking, van Ass said perhaps this incident “hurt” Batra.
“The players had finished the game moments ago when Batra began talking to them in Hindi. He was criticising them and he had no right to do that.
“The field is my area of work and I shooed him away (from the pitch). If he wanted, he could have spoke to them closed doors. It is unfair to criticise the players after a game they had won,” the coach said.
Batra, it is learnt, even linked the players’ poor overall performance to lack of sponsors in the Hockey India League.
On Monday, Batra was quoted as saying on a channel that van Ass “had not been officially sacked”. His claims that the coach had not submitted an official report after India’s fourth-place finish in Belgium were also refuted by the Dutchman. 
“I did not submit my report on the tournament because I was already fired... I did not want to react before I got an official letter. But now I feel my silence will be used against me,” he said.
Interestingly, Batra had initially denied that any incident took place in Belgium and now even claims that “van Ass is a good man manager but not a good coach”, raising further questions.
If sacked, why was van Ass not been informed officially? Has he been sacked for merely telling the HI boss to leave the pitch?
If the HI head believes van Ass is not a good coach, why did he not check this before the latter’s appointment?
van Ass’ credentials speak for themselves. The coach has a medal each in the World Cup and the Olympics with the world’s number 2 team, the Netherlands. In fact, he is known for taking bold and fair decisions despite reputations, be they of players or administrators.