HOCKEY’S TRANSFORMERS: TAYYAB IKRAM
The elite hockey coach and FIH President talks sustainability, the aerial game and World Cup legacy.
This is your first Hockey World Cup as FIH President. What you are most looking forward to?
The World Cup is our sport’s pinnacle event, and I always look forward to it, but this Hockey World Cup indeed has special meaning for me as my first Hockey World Cup as the FIH President. I feel special anticipation and responsibility for the smooth running and success of the event, and I have deep appreciation for the dedication and hard work of Hockey India, the local organizers and the FIH staff who in close cooperation have set this event up to triumph.
I am looking forward to our sport’s best players showing off their magnificent skills, our best coaches showing off their tactical acumen, our best officials plying their trade, and our fans thoroughly enjoying the action, but in addition to that, I am very much looking forward also to the Hockey World Cup as a great opportunity to get together with the hockey family and to connect and re-connect with colleagues, friends and the wider hockey family.
You are also an elite hockey coach, what advances in performance or skills are your most excited about?
Hockey is a very dynamic sport, and it is always exciting to see how it develops, even in short periods of time like from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to this World Cup. One cannot help but admire the wealth of technical skills, tactical astuteness and spirit of innovation amongst our elite athletes and coaches.
Specifically, at this World Cup, it is fantastic to see the advances in aerial passing. We are seeing a lot more long overhead balls across a big part of the field and teams making smart use of aerial balls into the circle. In terms of individual skills around aerial balls, we are seeing more aerials received in movement, but still controlled in a very skillful manner. Also, advances in the rules and interpretation are now allowing more opportunities for spectacular interceptions, which are good to see.
Other advances I have found noticeable are the increased variety and improvisation on the first touch, which allow skillful players and teams to create excellent opportunities for vertical advancement, and the fact that many teams have much improved their defense effectiveness, particularly in deep defense, which is very sound. The improved penalty corner defense is especially noteworthy: the PC conversion rate is significantly reduced.
The World Cup will be played in two big stadiums. How important are big crowds and stadiums to the future of the game?
Big modern stadia, like the ones here in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela are impressive, and every sport wants a fitting stage to present its biggest events and best athletes. They are also great for broadcast and social media presentation, of course, allowing us to better show the excitement and appeal of our sport, which in turn is good for everyone involved.
However, I think big crowds are the key ingredient. The atmosphere and energy in a well-filled stadium take the experience to the next level – for athletes and for fans on site and watching on TV or online – and they push the athletes to ever better performances.
World Cups stimulate interest in the sport, what legacy will this World Cup have?
As mentioned before, the senior World Cups are of course our showpieces outside of the Olympic Games, so they are always a milestone for us, and an opportunity to take stock and recalibrate. This event in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela has definitely set a high bar for future World Cup organizers with a view to the facilities, presentation and show elements and the overall event setting and atmosphere.
A more tangible legacy is the impact on the development of the sport of hockey in India, and in particular, in the state of Odisha, which has been a fantastic champion for hockey within the country and an excellent partner to FIH. There have been a significant number of new high-quality facilities installed and the enthusiasm for the sport brought about by this amazing event will surely translate into important growth in the fan and player base.
And I am especially happy to see the legacy beyond sport, the way the Hockey World Cup as an event is transforming the community. I have had the opportunity to speak to local people in Rourkela, and they expressed appreciation to hockey for how beautiful the coming of the World Cup has made the city.
Hockey has traditionally been the national sport of India. How do you see the future of the game in India?
The revitalization of hockey in India in the past decade has been an impressive journey, and I believe hockey has already succeeded in re-establishing itself as the national sport, next to cricket, after a long difficult period. The men’s and women’s teams recent successes, in particular, the men’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medal, are boosting the sport’s resurgence further and are inspiring a whole new generation of Indian players, so personally, I am looking forward to what is yet to come, what the teams achieve in the coming years, and of course how India’s model and successes can guide and inspire other National Associations in their development.
Sustainability is important for hockey’s future, what are you focused on?
Sustainability is a key topic in this day and age for all of humanity, I think, in all areas of life, and thus also something that hockey, and sport overall, must consider and work towards.
The biggest and most pressing topic for hockey is of course the fact that the standard in international hockey for almost 50 years has been playing on water-based turfs. The associated need for large amounts of water, as well as the issues related to the turf materials themselves, such as their manufacturing and disposal as well as microplastics pollution, are becoming less and less acceptable and sustainable virtually by the day.
We have therefore been working for some time on improvements related to playing surfaces. The cooperation with our Global Supplier Polytan has been excellent and we have been able to make significant progress, for example with the move towards turfs that are partially manufactured from sugar cane, which significantly reduces the use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions. The turfs here at the Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela are this type, and feedback has been nothing but positive. But we aim higher, and our big ambition is an entirely waterless turf, which we hope to be able to present in the near future.