Dilip Tirkey led the Indian hockey team with vigour as a player and is determined to bring that passion to his role as Hockey India (HI) president, after being elected unopposed on Friday. The three-time Olympian, 44, will join Sourav Ganguly (BCCI), Adille Sumariwalla (AFI) and Kalyan Chaubey (AIFF) as a first former player to head his national federation.
In an interview, the former defender with 412 caps for India discusses his immediate objective, long-term vision and how he plans to uplift the sport at the domestic and international levels.
India captain to leading Hockey India…
First of all I want to thank hockey associations, units and permanent members for supporting me with an open mind. I want to also thank Bhola Nath Singh and Rakesh Katyal, who were also contesting for the post, for withdrawing their candidature and supporting me. I want to thank Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the government and people of Odisha. The amount of development work that has been done in the last few years for hockey in Odisha—building a 20,000-capacity stadium, organising tournaments, hosting the World Cup and other hockey related programmes—somewhere that reflects in the entire country, which is why all these different associations supported me.
How can a player turned president be different?
He can bring a difference because he has been a player and understands the needs and situation of the players better. He always knows how to help and what is needed in what areas. Being a player, you can address the technical part. We can go deep to try and solve problems.
What is your immediate objective?
First of all, the World Cup in January is very important. Odisha government is working on it with Hockey India. We will make it a memorable event for the people, foreign players, hockey lovers and sports tourists. Along with that we will plan for the future—how to increase the quantity and quality of our junior and sub-junior players. The seniors are working very hard and doing really well—the men and women finished third and fourth (at the Tokyo Olympics). Whatever deficiencies are there, we will work on them, especially on specific programmes like who after Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh, and how to create more drag-flickers. Among goalkeepers, who after PR Sreejesh? We will give attention to all these technical areas. The fitness level is good and the support staff has been working well with the team.
And your long-term vision?
Mainly how to improve training at the sub-junior and junior levels because for me these two categories are very important for the future, for the long-term. We somehow don’t give that as much attention as we should. We only think about the senior team most of the time.
What steps will you take to avoid future court intervention?
Our governing body will try to show good governance so that such a situation doesn’t arise again. Hockey India has been working hard for the players, which is why we’ve been able to see such good performances. We got (an Olympic) a medal after many (41) years. Hockey India worked hard for it. Our efforts will be towards how the teams play even better hockey and improve their fitness. We will give full attention to all the requirements of players.
How can you make the 2023 World Cup grander than in 2018?
The government is working towards it. It won’t be appropriate for me to comment on it as of now. There will be surprises. Nowhere in the world is there a 20,000-capacity hockey stadium like in Rourkela. You will see how people are attached to hockey there.
Do you plan to revive the Hockey India League given how well India is doing?
We will have to talk to the (world body) FIH to get a window approved because there are so many international events happening. Once we get the clearance, the Hockey India Executive Board will work towards it.
Odisha has hosted internationals for many years now. Do you plan to spread the game to other centres?
We can definitely spread it but everyone, other states, have to come forward. Why is Odisha getting so many events? Because Kalinga Stadium (Bhubaneswar) has world-class infrastructure and all the facilities, the public and hockey lovers—there’s so much crowd. I have not seen this anywhere else. The craze for hockey is increasing there. Also, because of how the government is supporting the development of hockey there. Even we want matches to happen elsewhere, in hockey playing states that used to be hold matches but they have decreased due to some reason or the other. We’ll talk to them and after speaking to the respective governments try and organise events for sure.
Women’s hockey is in the spotlight. What are the specific plans for them?
They performed really well at the Olympics and got bronze at the Commonwealth Games, but all of a sudden in some matches in recent times we didn’t get to see the same level of performance, like in the World Cup. We will see where the team is lacking and if there is a problem we will discuss with the coaches and try and find a solution.
What is your ultimate target for India?
Next is the World Cup where we are the hosts and then the Olympics. We hope that in major events the teams do well.