Calcutta: In a departure from tradition, the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) is looking for umpires below 25 years of age. All this while, the cut-off for qualification to the national panel was 40.
The idea is to catch them young and get them ready for the international arena sooner than later.
“What was happening so long was that most of the umpires were coming into the national panel at the age of 30 or above,” explained Gurbux Singh, chairman of the IHF umpires’ committee. “With 5-6 years needed for the good ones to graduate to the international level, they are close to 40 by the time they are ready.
“And since the FIH doesn’t allow anyone above 40 to officiate international matches, so few Indian umpires get big assignments.”
There are about half a dozen Indian umpires on the FIH grade I panel, but in the last two years, just a couple of them — Virender Bahadur and Satinder Sharma — have had the fortune of getting ‘selected’ for major tournaments like the World Cup and Champions Trophy.
In the last umpires’ examination conducted by the Indian federation, about 50 cleared the theoretical and practical tests, but very few of them were in the age-group of 25 or thereabouts. “If we get a handful of good under-25 umpires, they will be ready for international assignments by the time they are 30-31 which will give them a much longer time-span at the highest level,” Gurbux said.
The IHF has already conducted written tests for the ‘new generation’ umpires. “There were 35 candidates and I will soon be examining their papers,” said Gurbux, who has just got back from hospital after having an angioplasty done for a block in the artery.
If even two or three pass the written and practical tests, Gurbux wants to try them out in the home ‘Test’ series against the Dutch early next year. “We are already running late, no point in delaying the push for more Indian umpires in international meets any more.”