With domestic events put on a hold due to the ongoing pandemic, Hockey India has ensured this period is not lost on technical officials and umpires in the country.
Since the nation-wide lockdown began in March-April, the national governing body for hockey has conducted regular online courses for technical officials and umpires in the country. They have also encouraged many of them to attend the recent online courses conducted by Asian Hockey Federation which was aimed at providing technical expertise on various aspects of officiating and managing international matches.
This constant attempt to keep the umpires updated with workshops, online courses, materials, videos and so on has helped several umpires upskill their knowledge, feels experienced international hockey umpire Javed Shaikh.
"Back when I began umpiring in the year 1999-2000, things were very different. We had to seek guidance from senior umpires at our own interest and there was never any courses or seminars as such. The lack of encouragement and knowledge base to learn often kept people from pursuing hockey officiating," expressed Shaikh, who has umpired at major events such as Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, 2014 Men's World Cup in Hague as well as the 2018 Men's World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
Apart from these continued online workshops, Hockey India has also formed WhatsApp groups with one experienced international umpire in each group consisting 15 upcoming officials to engage in healthy debate and discussions on different challenges that arise while officiating.
"These groups are constantly active where we share ready material with videos to provide clarity on various situations in matches. From Maharashtra alone, we had about 70 young officials who were actively taking part in these discussions on the group.
"I feel by using technology to guide young officials, umpires and technical officials, Hockey India has rekindled interest among many youngsters, both men and women, especially below 25 to take up officiating," added Shaikh who is appointed as umpire for the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics Games by FIH.
While there were hardly 3-4 international umpires available in India to officiate matches in prestigious international uournaments back in the 90s, today Hockey India's efforts has resulted in over 14-15 international umpires being graded by FIH and often called-up for international assignments.
"Even a decade ago, taking up umpiring was always a 'second option' for many. It was mostly ex-players, around 35-38 years, whose careers would have ended playing for their employers that often took umpiring to stay relevant in the sport. But these days, with the kind of encouragement and opportunities being provided by the federation, we have many who are 25 years and younger who take up umpiring. This really makes me feel proud," Shaikh said.
Looking back at his career in umpiring that has spanned over two decades, Shaikh said it has been the most satisfying experience. "Umpiring has helped me in a big way to improve my own personality."
"To be able to stand on the field with 10,000 to 15,000 spectators, managing 22 top players was something unimaginable for a shy, reserved type of person like me but umpiring has changed my life and instilled tremendous self-confidence.
"Representing the country in top tournaments like the World Cup and Olympics too has been a huge honour and I hope many more youngsters grab the opportunities provided today to make a path for themselves in officiating," he added.