Another jolt for sport, as Hockey India CEO Elena Norman resigns

Slashed salary, unpaid dues, hostile environment may have precipitated her decision
Hockey India CEO Elena Norman resigned from her position
Hockey India CEO Elena Norman resigned from her position (Photo | EPS)

CHENNAI: Elena Norman, Hockey India's long-standing CEO, resigned from her post on Tuesday morning. HI confirmed the development in a press release. "Long-serving CEO of Hockey India, Elena Norman on Tuesday resigned from her post after holding the position for nearly 13 years," it read.

Dilip Tirkey, HI's president, thanked Norman for her service. "I would like to express my gratitude for Elena’s time and dedication," he was quoted as saying in the release. "Her dedication and efforts have played a pivotal role in propelling Hockey India and Indian hockey to the commendable position they hold today. I wish her great success in all her future endeavors."

This development is highly significant for a number of reasons. Last week, HI, an increasingly beleaguered National Sports Federation (NSF), had to come to terms with the resignation of Janneke Schopman, the coach of the women's team. In an explosive interaction, Schopman had accused HI of preferential treatment. "I felt alone a lot in the last two years," she had said after India's Pro League encounter against the US last Sunday. "Because, I come from a culture where women are respected and valued. I don’t feel that here. From not very many people – and I do feel people working here on the ground are amazing from Hockey India (HI) – but I feel it’s so hard."

Norman, who played a prominent role in bringing two men's World Cups to India during her reign as CEO, stood out as a powerful woman administrator in a world dominated by men. After initially working as a marketing consultant with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) during the 2010 World Cup, she officially joined HI as the NSF's first-ever CEO in 2011.

Hockey India CEO Elena Norman resigned from her position
Days after alleging discrimination, Schopman resigns as chief coach of Indian women's hockey team

Salary slashed, unpaid dues and difficult environment

While Norman had enjoyed a lot of power over the last decade or so, she found the working environment challenging in recent times. To cite one example, it's been reliably learnt that her salary had been cut by more than 50%. It's also understood that her remuneration had been withheld.

In an internal communique written by Tirkey to HI board members and accessed by this daily, the president wrote: "Despite my best efforts to persuade Elena to continue her invaluable contributions to our organisation, we cannot overlook the challenges she has faced, particularly issues surrounding unpaid dues and (an) increasingly difficult working environment," Tirkey wrote. "The decision for her departure is truly disappointing, as I firmly believe that Hockey India is losing a seasoned professional who has played a pivotal role in the growth and elevation of the sport's professional over the past 12 years." Norman did not respond to messages sent by this daily.

That is true. Under Norman as CEO, HI, a nascent body when the Australian was first appointed to the post of CEO, the sport's profile grew in the country. The Hockey India League (HIL) came back amid much fanfare. Apart from the conduct of the two World Cups, India became the usual pincode for international men's events including the now defunct Champions Trophy and the World League final.

It was also under her watch that the women's team qualified for the Games in Rio, a first in 36 years. In 2011, when she had come on board, the men's team hadn't even taken part in the 2008 Games in Beijing. She leaves the federation with the team ideally placed to have successive podium finishes for the first time in more than four decades. In the press release, the body took cognisance of these achievements.

But there have been setbacks as well. The much acclaimed HIL ran into problems before it was disbanded (it's set to make a comeback at the end of this year). The running of the federation was also placed in the hands of Committee of Administrators (CoA) in 2022 thanks to a ruling by the Delhi High Court (for a month or so, the FIH had threatened to take the World Cup away from India before HI got it's house back in order).

At some level, this resignation had been in the post for a while. With the presence of two factions within the federation, her days had become numbered. Over the last few months, multiple reports have emerged that Tirkey, president, and Bhola Nath Singh, secretary general, have clashed over several issues.

With the working environment clearly becoming difficult, the Australian decided enough was enough and decided to put in her papers. However, it should also be noted that the Delhi High Court is currently hearing a plea filed by Aslam Sher Khan, a former India captain. It's in respect to certain administrative issues that came to light when Narendra Batra was heading the federation (the High Court had asked for an audit of HI's accounts). The next hearing is scheduled in April.

What next

The men's team's preparations for the Olympics are unlikely to get affected. Their Paris route map is already set in store and it doesn't depend on what happens off the field. What, though, could be interesting is what happens within the federation. With Tirkey expected to get busy because of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, will he have the time to look after the federation?

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The New Indian Express