If fans hadn't voted, the winners would have been the same, says FIH CEO
Many across the hockey world questioned if it is a good idea to have fans voting for an award that defines the best athletes and coaches from a technical perspective
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) will create a task force to work on its global awards selection process that caused "anger" and "disappointment" this year but its CEO Thierry Weil has asserted that the winners -- all of them Indians -- wouldn't have been different even without fans' votes. India swept the FIH annual awards last Wednesday, claiming all top honours based on a voting system that was lambasted as a "failure" by men's Olympic champions Belgium, prompting the global body to say that it would try to figure why some associations did not cast their ballot.
Many from across the hockey world questioned if it is really a good idea to have fans voting for an award that is meant to define the best athletes and coaches from a technical perspective.
However, the award winners topped each of the voting groups that also involved the national associations and media. "Our overall strategy at FIH is to put athletes and fans at the centre of everything we do. So, it is essential to give fans an option to express their views. If in this regard the current process is the right one or not, is something we will need to analyze of course," Weil said in an interview published by FIH.
Votes from National Associations -- represented by their respective captains and coaches -- accounted for 50 percent of the overall result, while fans and players (25 percent), as well as media (25 percent), made the other half of the votes. It is to be noted that only 19 associations from the 42-strong European bloc cast their votes, compared to 29 out of 33 in Asia.
"Clearly we need to involve the fans one way or the other. After all, thanks to this vote, we will have the opportunity to engage with almost 300,000 fans. This is not only good for India - where most of these fans are coming from - but for the growth of our sport overall and therefore the whole hockey community. Also, as we've mentioned on the day of the vote, all winning athletes have topped the standings in each of the three voting groups. In other words, even if fans wouldn't have voted, the winning athletes would have been the same."
Five Indian players and the head coaches of both the men's and women's teams in the Tokyo Olympics claimed the top honours across different categories after fetching the maximum votes. The men's hockey team had won a bronze, it's first in 41 years, at the Games, while the women's side had finished an unprecedented fourth in the showpiece. Asked if the voting process will remain the same in the future, Weil talked about forming a task force.
"I can't answer this question before we do a thorough analysis. But I can tell you that we will work on the future Stars Awards with the global hockey community. We will engage with many stakeholders to come up with a process which receives the support of most, and then go with it for next year. These awards are here to promote hockey, athletes and coaches. It isn't good for anybody if they lead to controversy. I've already engaged with a few and will continue to do so. We will most likely create a task force to look at this."
He is "convinced" that everyone involved with the game will reach a consensus and celebrate these awards in the future. Weil agreed that the absence of players from the Olympic gold medallists teams was bound to cause disappointment and anger.
"If in an Olympic year, the gold medallists don't win any award and another nation gets all of them, it is clear that this won't come across well. Therefore, I of course do understand the disappointment and also, to some extent, the anger, especially of the teams concerned. At the same time, I want to congratulate the winners. They were all nominated by an expert committee – made of FIH, FIH Athletes Committee and high-performance representatives – and therefore were as much entitled as the others to win. And both Indian teams had a fantastic performance at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. I assume that the natural joy which they should rightly feel by winning such an award may have been altered by all this, and that is not nice either," Weil said.
India's Harmanpreet Singh won the men's Player of the Year award and Gurjit Kaur was recognized as the best player in the women's section. Veteran P R Sreejesh and Savita Punia won the best goalkeeper awards in the men's and women's section, while young striker Sharmila Devi (women) and Vivek Sagar Prasad (men) were adjudged best rising stars.
When asked whether the current voting process is right, Weil said it involves the game's stakeholders though he did not call it the ideal one. He also said the voting process was more or less the same last year too.
"There were two differences. We made it compulsory for the national associations that their votes should come from their national team coaches and captains; I believe that everybody will agree that this was the right thing to do in order to increase the technical legitimacy of the vote. Secondly, the voting process for the coaches was the same as the one for the athletes this time (while the FIH Coach of the Year Award was determined by an FIH panel previously)."
Weil was asked why almost half of the national associations (NAs) did not take the opportunity to vote. "I have personally contacted several members of the hockey community to warn them about this situation, and I know they were active. "But still, many national associations did not cast their vote. Clearly, this had by far the biggest impact on the results. If you set up a jury but half of this jury doesn't vote, how can you expect that people will unanimously accept the results? In our analysis, we will have to establish why this situation happened."