Coudron sets his sights on the FIH presidency after the overhaul of Belgian hockey
This time next week, the members of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) will meet to elect their next president.
After a long period during which the incumbents have often embarked on a new mandate without even the slightest hint of challenge, the leader of the FIH, Narinder Batra, will have to fight against the competition of a rival to keep his post in Congress virtual Saturday May 22.
The man standing against him is Belgian Marc Coudron, who assured that the FIH would become the last organization to have what was once a rarity in the Olympic world – a contested presidential election.
“There are two main reasons why I decided to be a candidate,” said the president of the Royal Belgian Hockey Federation (KBHB). in games.
“First, my tenure with KBHB ends in June, so the timing is great for me.
“I called Narinder after deciding to be a candidate and told him that I personally had nothing against him. I respect him and have a good relationship with him, but I don’t have the same vision for the development of hockey. .
“Now I have to convince different nations to support my candidacy.”
Coudron, treasurer and member of the management of the Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee (BOIC) and private banker, brings with him a wealth of experience in hockey and sports management.
Not only has he made 358 appearances for Belgium, but his 16 years at the helm of KBHB coincided with the country’s rise to the top of men’s football, culminating in the nation’s victory at the 2018 World Cup in India. .
To put that success into context, Belgium had never even qualified for the knockout stage of a World Cup before winning the tournament three years ago.
Belgium also failed to qualify for seven consecutive Olympic Games between 1980 and 2004, before finishing second at Rio 2016. They will likely be the world’s top-ranked men’s team for the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics and will be among the favorites for gold if the event goes as planned.
“It has really been an evolution at all levels,” says Coudron of the success Belgium has had in recent years.
“We had no intention of becoming world champions in 2005 and for me at the time it was impossible for us to reach this level.
“But each time, every few years, we have become more ambitious. Impossible is temporary, as Muhammad Ali said.
“What I did in Belgium is what I would like to do globally.”
After overseeing a period of unprecedented triumph in his native Belgium, Coudron set himself the goal of repairing and improving the FIH, a federation in difficulty before the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The financial situation of the FIH will be at the top of the list of the winner of the election. Earlier this year my in games His colleague David Owen revealed that the FIH lost more than CHF 633,000 (£ 498,000 / $ 702,000 / € 578,000) in 2019, which more than doubled its 2018 deficit.
Many of the FIH’s problems have been attributed to the launch of the Hockey Pro League. The accounts showed that the television production costs for the new competition “were underestimated while, at the same time, revenues from the broadcast agreements were overestimated.”
The document also stated that the Pro League ran a deficit of just over 1.5million francs (1.2million pounds / 1.7million dollars / 1.4million euros) over the course of the year. The direction of travel for the Pro League, admits Coudron, is simply not sustainable.
“We must ensure the financial viability of the FIH, which is one of the main priorities,” said Coudron.
“The situation is not the fault, error or responsibility of the current president and the members of the executive council, but at the moment the FIH has big financial problems and we have to solve them.
“I’m a big fan of the league, but it has to be sustainable. At the moment it doesn’t, and it’s something we have to deal with if I’m elected.
“I will be very careful and careful about this because if the league has a deficit every year, it is not a good product – for the players of course but also financially.”
Coudron has targeted increased investment from sponsors and believes it is essential that the FIH signs a leading partner as early as possible to help stem its financial decline.
“I am convinced that we can find solutions and get big names to help us develop hockey around the world,” he said.
“Maybe I’m idealistic, but that’s what we achieved in Belgium. At the beginning we had a very small number of sponsors but we have 20 times more than 15 years ago. I hope. that we can achieve the same level of growth if I am elected to the FIH.
“We need to expand the sponsorship portfolio; at the moment it is too low. Without a good and solid financial situation, you cannot do anything and it is impossible to develop hockey in the world.”
Coudron also believes that more investment needs to be made in middle and lower tier countries – a common commitment of any candidate for a role in the sport, but which he believes is particularly relevant to hockey.
The changes to the Hockey Pro League format are one of his suggestions to help bridge the “huge gap” between the so-called bigger nations and the rest, while creating another competition to give to those who don’t. not part of the top 10 more visibility and playing time.
“The FIH has decided to invest a lot in the Pro League, it is a good product but it is only for eight to ten nations,” said Coudron.
“The top 10 is a bit isolated, and we don’t want that. For a team of about 25 years olde-30th in the world, they maybe only have a chance in 20 or 30 of getting a draw or beating the best teams in the world, and that’s not good.
“The top 10 or 15 nations when I played in the ’80s and’ 90s are the same today as they were then. This is not a criticism of them, but we need more countries that could reach the top 10 or 15 in the world in five, 10, 15 years. At the moment, that’s impossible. “
Coudron, a member of the FIH executive board between 2010 and 2018, also claims that hockey sells itself at a loss for words when it comes to communicating its “excellent values”, such as its track record of trying to reach. sacred gender equality.
Before the election, six of the 14 ordinary members of the FIH Executive Board are women, while two of the five continental associations are headed by a woman. “Equality isn’t just a word in hockey, it’s reality,” adds Coudron.
Tailor development to a specific country by promoting 5s hockey – the short form of the sport that some fear will one day replace the traditional 11-a-side game of the Olympic program – and floor hockey, depending on the nation involved, is another of its beliefs. keys.
Throughout our long appeal, Coudron refuses to engage in any criticism of Batra, whose first term as FIH President was accompanied by its fair share of controversy.
The Belgian has aimed – perhaps inadvertently – on what some might perceive as a thinly veiled beard at his rival, who has been accused of prioritizing his role as president of the Indian Olympic Association over the FIH .
“If I am elected, I will be 100% dedicated to the FIH,” said Coudron. “I will end my presidency of Belgium in June and I will no longer be a candidate for the BOIC. My attention will be entirely turned to the FIH.”
Preparation for the elections lacked public mud, demands and counterclaims from the Olympic Movement’s recent presidential votes, although the FIH itself faced criticism from Coudron and others after initially deciding to hold on. the Congress as a hybrid event, with some attending in person in New Delhi and others joining virtually.
These plans were described as “absurd” and “dangerous” by Coudron before the FIH turned around and confirmed that the Congress would be organized entirely online, a premonitory move given the deadly outbreak of COVID-19 cases that has ravaged India in recent times. .
As a starter, Batra remains the favorite as the election draws near, a pivotal moment for the FIH and hockey itself, but Coudron predicts the result will be tighter than most people think.
“It will be close, I’m sure,” said the Belgian. “I’m confident but I’m not sure I will win.
“I’m motivated to be the next president, but like a hockey final, everyone wants to win and there will be a winner and a loser.
“It’s like a hockey game, it’s not the end of the world. I have my vision, my ideas and I would like to extend them to the hockey world as I tried to do in Belgium. J ‘hope I will. given this chance. “