What was your first reaction when the Indian Women’s Hockey Team qualified for Rio Olympics 2016?
A long wait of 36 years was reckoned, no doubt it gives us goosebumps! Very few know about one of the Ninjas behind the success, Elena Norman, an Australian, who is leading Hockey India with guts and glory.
Elena, grew up in a small coastal town in NSW before moving to Sydney to attend university. She moved to India in December 2007. If you are starting to think why would she be eager to work for Indian hockey, Elena divides her expertise and inclination to work for something far laborious. The conditions here were the cue, and without thinking twice she chaired as CEO.
From Australia to Hockey India: How did it all start? What interested you in joining the federation?
I have been in Indian sports business for the last ten years. Prior to joining Hockey India, I was COO with the Sports Marketing agency in Delhi. It is this experience that brought me to my role in Hockey India as CEO. Being able to make a difference towards the growth and development of what has been termed as India’s national sport has been a very enriching journey for me.
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What potential did you see in Indian players that interested you in coming to the country?
India is completely in the global spotlight across sectors, including sports. There is so much potential here for developing talent, infrastructure as well as bring more fans into the game. Working in a different environment that provides you with various experiences and opportunities gives you immense work satisfaction. Thanks to the vision and beliefs of sports federations like Hockey India; this latent potential is now seeing results and I am confident the future is even brighter for Indian athletes.
I truly believe men and women are equal. I am a woman of foreign origin leading a national sports federation in India. That in itself speaks a lot about women empowerment which trickles down to how we run the organisation. The focus is on finding who is best for the job irrespective of being a man or a woman.
What is your core passion and long-term vision as the CEO of Hockey India?
Growth and development of players is truly our driving force. If we can impact the lives of our players and their ecosystem in a positive way and help them realise their true potential I will be happy. There is a lot of hard work by the administrative staff that goes into governance for sports like hockey. But of late, we have started reaping benefits of long-term plans that have been put into place. I look forward to India regaining its pride and glory at the top world hockey.
What has been your most touching moment in the circuit?
There are many moments over the last 6 years that I hold really close to me.
They include the Junior Women win the Bronze Medal in 2013, Junior Women World Cup, the first time ever they have won the medal.
The Men’s Team won a Bronze Medal in the 2015 World League Final in India, it was our first medal in a major world level tournament in over 32 years (India last won a medal in an international tournament way back in 1982 when they beat Pakistan 5-4 in the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam).
The Indian Women’s Team qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games and of course the Junior Men Team winning the Junior Men World Cup in 2016 in front of over 25,000 fans (it still gives me goosebumps!).
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Do you face any struggles maintaining the team, or other difficulties? What are your biggest challenges?
We have put enough time now into our systems so the teams run almost independently. We are of course still learning and will continue to learn from our mistakes so that there is less room for errors and we all get better in the future.
How did you overcome the adversity and what are the traits you use for the betterment of Hockey India and its players?
Perseverance and hard work have ensured that we have overcome our challenges to date. We are all continually striving to ensure the best for our athletes and the sport.
What are the chances for girls to play hockey in India? Do they get as much exposure and enthusiasm as they deserve?
The national senior and junior women’s teams are doing very well and have seen tremendous progress over the years. The national women’s team qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games, they last participated in the Olympics in 1980. This in itself was a very big achievement for the athletes.
At Hockey India, we have a completely equal approach towards management and opportunities for both men and women’s teams. They get the best possible training at our national camps and great international exposure across the tournaments played through the tremendous support provided by MYAS and SAI. They experience financial independence which they are able to share with their families as well.
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How has Hockey liberated women in the country? Do women now seek to take up the sport professionally?
Earlier, it was hard to retain talent due to women reaching the marriageable age and then discontinuing to play. Now that is not the case. Many families of women hockey players are encouraging them to continue playing before as well as after marriage. Proficiency in the sport also offers secure government jobs and financial support which go a long way for a stable professional career.
Our current women’s team Captain, Rani, recently got a house constructed for her family with her own income. It encourages other women to also take up hockey as a career.
Any future plans? Could you briefly tell us about any upcoming tournaments you’re aiming at?
The 2018 Hockey Men’s World Cup will take place in Bhubaneswar where we aim at a podium finish for the Indian team. We also have important tournaments like the Hockey World League Final and the Asia Cup coming up this year. The Hockey India League has also been a star attraction with a unique franchise model allowing our players to engage in a club format of the sport and play alongside international players.
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Share the passion that drives you to stay vigilant
If I think of what is at stake and what my responsibility is, it automatically makes me extremely vigilant. I have been trusted with a great responsibility to lead operations at Hockey India and I know the kind of positive impact I can have on the sport. I guess that leaves me with no option but to give it my 100% every day.
Women players face challenges like discrimination, pay parity — what’s your solution to that?
We don’t believe that our women face discrimination, however, there are fewer job opportunities for women athletes. We continue to encourage PSU’s and government departments to provide employment opportunities for women athletes so that they can feel secure to pursue a career in sports.
What would be your advice for the girls who aspire sports but fail to pursue due to lack of support/negative circumstances?
I would advise them to take up hockey. They and their families will not be disappointed.
There is respect as well as financial stability in taking up sports these days and I hope that encourages their families to help them pursue their talents.
Educating parents is as important as educating the girls about the growing opportunities in sports.
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Feature Image Credit: NDTV sports
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