Off-field antics in Hockey India (HI) have grabbed centre stage in an Olympic year where the attention should be on the men’s hockey team’s preparations for Paris (the women have not qualified).

Shortly after Janneke Schopman, the head coach of the senior women’s team, resigned, Elena Norman, the federation’s longtime CEO, submitted her resignation. The Australian’s 13-year career as HI’s first CEO comes to an end with his departure.

The 49-year-old, who moved to India in 2007, was employed by a marketing solutions company to work on the 2010 FIH World Cup. Elena held significant influence inside the federation as a dependable assistant to former president of FIH and HI Narinder Batra. She brought order to the federation’s chaos and played a key role in setting up procedures that allowed India to host several FIH events in the future, such as the junior World Cup in 2016 and 2021, the Champions Trophy, and the men’s and women’s Olympic qualifiers.

Although Elena introduced a level of professionalism to the management of the sport that had never been seen before in this area, her work culture was questioned. She was frequently charged with temperamentality.

Elena’s resignation is not shocking because it was clear from the beginning of 2022 that things would eventually come to an end when Batra resigned as president of FIH and former international Aslam Sher Khan filed a lawsuit over a number of issues, including Elena’s dual role as CEO and life member of the HI executive body. On March 3, the Delhi High Court is set to render a decision on this matter.

Elena was ordered to accept a significant pay reduction last year, despite being one of the highest paid professionals in an Indian sports association. It has been reported that she declined to sign the updated contract because of the increased terms and conditions. Only last week was her three-month salary arrears settled.

Elena cited an antagonistic workplace culture as the cause of her resignation.

“It’s always bittersweet to part ways. I believe that now is the appropriate moment for me to leave Hockey India, both emotionally and physically. The hardest 18 months of my job have been these past 18 months. Being unable to operate normally was a barrier because not everyone makes the most of you, she told TOI.

The final straw, according to her, was the controversy surrounding the women’s team and the dismissal of the Dutch head coach.

“(Take a look at) the events over the past several months involving the women’s hockey team and coach. After the loss, Hockey India had a genuine chance to declare that they will support women’s hockey. However, they didn’t. It had the potential to truly capture Hockey India’s essence, which is helping the team in times of need. Things weren’t handled properly, and my perspective wasn’t heard either,” the woman stated.

When asked what she learned most from her work, she stated, “I’m proud to have helped hockey in India grow. I knew going in that I could make an impact, and I have. That’s what I learned most.

It has come to light that HI president Dilip Tirkey attempted to convince Elena to rescind her resignation, but she refused to back down. “I would like to properly thank her and express my gratitude for all of her outstanding work over the past 12–13 years. In a statement, Tirkey said, “Her commitment and hard work were crucial in elevating Hockey India and Indian hockey to a remarkable level.