Mumbai: It was hockey that brought Narinder Dhruv Batra to prominence and contributed to him becoming the top sports administrator in the country; it was also hockey that eventually brought about his downfall.
Old-timers in Indian sports remember Batra as a state hockey administrator from Jammu and Kashmir who rose to prominence after hosting senior men’s national championships in the 90s.
Soon, he rose in the old Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) hierarchy to become its vice-president and then fell out with the president KPS Gill, made a failed bid to win the president’s post, and eventually won a legal battle that led to the downfall of the Gill regime and the setting up of Hockey India (HI).
The same Delhi High Court that opened the door for Batra’s resurrection as a hockey administrator also ended his reign as the most powerful sports administrator in India. The Delhi High Court directives came on a contempt petition filed by Olympian and World Cup-winner Aslam Sher Khan.
Under pressure after a Delhi High Court bench on May 25 struck down his appointment as a life member of Hockey India — terming it illegal and ultra vires to the National Sports Code — and told him to cease functioning as the president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), Batra resigned as IOA chief and president of International Hockey Federation (FIH) and also gave up his membership of International Olympic Committee (IOC) citing “personal reasons”.
Though his continuance as IOA president looked untenable once the court passed severe strictures against him and did not entertain a plea for stay, what came as a surprise was his decision to quit as FIH president — a post for which he was re-elected in 2021 by a wafer-thin majority.
Batra still had a few years left in his controversial reign at FIH during which he was pulled up by the world body for his intemperate remarks in a social media post following the 2017 Men’s Hockey World League semifinal match between India and Pakistan in London, before which the then India captain Sardar Singh was summoned for questioning by police in England in connection with allegations made by a woman against him. Batra was also accused of neglecting the FIH job to hold on to the IOA post.
By the time he quit, Batra’s four-year tenure as IOA president had already run its natural course in December 2021 and he was continuing as the elections were not held allegedly because of a court case.
It was during Batra’s rule that Indian hockey rose like a Phoenix and became the global financial superpower in the sport by organising FIH-level events and going on to bag an Olympic medal after a gap of four decades — a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last year.