What FIFA Could Not Do To Latin American Soccer, FIH Did To Asian Field-Hockey.
Sign in

editricon What FIFA could not do to Latin American Soccer, FIH did to Asian Field-hockey.

As a corollary to this question, one could also ask: When was the last time an Asian held the post of FIH (International Hockey Federation) President in its 88 year history.

The answer is that the FIH never at any time had an Asian at its helm.  Now the next question to follow here logically would be: what has the history of FIFA (International Soccer Federation) got to do with that of the history of FIH.  The answer lies in the fact that both sports, for a major part of their individual histories, have been characterized by a dichotomy of geography and most importantly their playing styles. 

For soccer, it has been the open and creative Latin American samba style of passing, dribble, and panache versus the regimented organized drill of European soccer. Of course, other newer playing styles and fusion playing cultures like African have come into the game today with soccer evolving into a truly international game. Moreover, even the original two traditional playing styles are now no longer restricted to their original geographies. 

When it comes to field-hockey, the major part of its history has been dominated by two contrasting playing styles:  The sub-continental South-Asian style of artistic dribbling and passing as epitomized by the glory hockey years of Bhaarath and Pakistan versus the physical run-your-opponents-ragged with an iron-defense variety of European field-hockey.  (There was also a later concept of total-hockey adopted and introduced by Australia in the 80s that would go on to make a very deep impact on the game. Total hockey incorporates aspects of both Asian and EU  style field-hockey but, IMHO, still is a very physical and power game that does not suit the Asians.)

In this context, it would be interesting to know as to how much influence and representation these playing cultures have had on the executive committees of the governing bodies of each of these sports.  In other words, which style represented the helm of the affairs of the sport by virtue of the origins of the person holding the topmost office of the President.

In this logic, let’s look at all the presidents that these two organizations had from their establishment date to the present.

FIFA (Established 1904) (108 years history)

1>     Robert Guerrin (France): 1904-1906  (2years)

2>     Daniel Woolfall (England):  1906-1918  (12 years)

3>     Jules Rimet (France):  1921-1954 (33 years)

4>     Rodolphe Seeldayers (Belgium): 1954-1955 (1 year)

5>     Arthur Drewry (England):  1955-1961 (6 years)

6>     Sir Stanley Rous (England): 1961-1974 (13 years)

7>     Joao Havelange (Brazil): 1974-1998 (24 years)

8>     Joseph Blatter (Switzerland): 1998-Present (14 years on)

FIH (Established 1924) (88 years history)

1>     P Leautey (France): 1924-1926 (2 years)

2>     F  Reichel (France):  1926-1932 (6 years)

3>     M Bellin du Coteau (France): 1932-1936 (4 years) 

4>     G Evers (Germany): 1936-1945 (9 years) 

5>     Jhr. L J Quarles an Ufford (Netherlands): 1946-1966 (20 years) 

6>     Rene G Frank (Belgium): 1966-1983 (17 years) 

7>     E F Glichitch (France): 1984-1996 (12 years) 

8>     J A Calzado (Spain): 1996-2001 (5 years) 

9>     Els Van Breda Vriesman (Netherlands): 2001-2008 (7 years) 

10>  Leandro Negre (Spain): 2008-Present (4 years on) 

So what does history tell us here?  If we look at FIFA (soccer), we find that out of its history of 108 years, 24 years have belonged to a reign of a President from Latin America (Brazil) and the remaining 84 years have been under the reigns of various European Presidents.  But when it comes to FIH (field-hockey), all its 88 years of existence have been shockingly under the offices of Presidents from Europe.  It is certainly shocking considering the fact that Asian hockey has been the dominant force in field-hockey history by virtue of the phenomenal number  of international championships garnered by South-Asian nations in the pre-Astroturf era.

One could always argue here that in the history of FIFA, Latin America was at the helm (in terms of the offices of president) for a mere 24 years out of the 108 year history of the world body.  But the counterpoint here is that one has to certainly consider the effects of the colonial era before the end of World War-II (1946) where the EU completely dominated the world both politically and militarily.  And this stifling influence naturally and certainly flowed into the world bodies governing sport as well.  Therefore, it is no surprise that both the FIFA and the FIH had Europeans at their helms before the demise of the colonial era.

It is what happened after the demise of the colonial era (beyond 1946) that is important here.  This makes it a 66 year post-colonial history for FIFA.  Therefore 24 out of 66 years for Latin America holding the offices of President becomes a significant percentage.   But when it comes to the FIH, it seems (shockingly once again) that Asia never got a chance at the offices of the President in all these 66 years of the post-colonial era.  It seems as if the FIH could not or refused to shake its colonial yoke.  It makes one ask as to how Europe has been consistently making all the decisions concerning field-hockey, especially when it comes to important rule changes and other crucial factors like the playing surface.

The 24 years (1974-1978) of the Latin American, Joao Havelange, as President of FIFA (the second longest time in office of a FIFA President in its history) were some of the greatest years for the evolution of soccer as a global sport, especially when it started on the heels of Brazil winning its 3rd World Cup in Mexico in 1970, as well as the first international telecast of the World Cup matches in color in that same year.  In spite of being considered very political and a person with questionable connections by his detractors, Havelange saw to it that during his term Latin American soccer not only did not suffer but also thrive.  He made epoch making decisions during his tenure, which also saw the parallel rise of African, Asian, North & Central American, and Oceana soccer.  He gave soccer a truly international image. Most importantly, he adroitly kept at bay those political and economically powerful forces that relentlessly tried to give the edge to EU soccer in terms of rules and playing surface.  He steadfastly said NO to the introduction of a synthetic playing surface (turf) for soccer in the interests of preserving the artistry magic of Latin American soccer and also in the greater interests of player health, as he reckoned that the turf could create devastating knee injuries for the players.  One could easily say that he was unabashedly pro-Latin soccer and was instrumental along with the great Pele to stage the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA.  All these, IMHO, would forever be his greatest contributions to this great game.

In stark contrast, the FIH’s Presidential history has been completely an EU affair this far and no doubt, it has always skewed itself to favor European hockey (shockingly, the current executive committee of the FIH has only two Asians in it.  Does this mean that Asians are not being let into powerful and important FIH posts? Or is it that the Asians are uninterested to hold these powerful posts, which seems very unlikely). To top all this, the Asian artistry, the bulwark of its playing culture, has been completely dismantled by the FIH.

More importantly, some more uncomfortable questions raise their head in this regard:

Who made the crucial decision in the 70s regarding the playing surface that forever skewed the game in favor of European style physical hockey (and also Australian style total hockey) where brute strength and endurance only matter? 

Were Asians consulted in the decision to permanently change the playing surface from natural grass to the synthetic turf that has now turned out to be a wretched curse on the artistry magic of Asian hockey? 

When will an Asian hold the summit office of FIH president for a long extended term and work in the genuine interests of Asian hockey just like the Brazilian, Havelange, who worked for the best interests of Latin American Soccer through the highest office of FIFA.