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He is touted as one of the best hockey umpires in the country. RV Raghu Prasad has indeed carved a niche for himself over the years, showing exemplary officiating skills in various domestic and international hockey matches. Raghu has umpired in more than 100 international matches (both at the senior and junior level). He has officiated in three FIH Champions Trophy tourneys (2005, 2009 and 2012 editions), two junior World Cups (2005 and 2009 editions) besides the 2010 World Cup, 2010 Asian Games, 2012 London Olympics and, mostly recently, in the inaugural Hero Hockey India League among many other high-profile events.
The 34-year-old Bangalorean scaled a new high in July 2009 when he was included in the FIH World Development Panel. He will be officiating in the FIH Hockey World League Round 3 tournament scheduled to be held in Johor Bahru, Malaysia from June 29 to July 7. Raghu, who works as an Assistant Manager with Karnataka State Hockey Association (KSHA), spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
Q. You first dreamt of becoming a doctor but choose to become an engineer obtaining a degree in aircraft maintenance. How did you manage to connect to hockey?
Well, I studied in the science stream and was keen to become a doctor, but time had chosen me to take up the engineering stream. To be honest, I was too much involved in NCC in my college days and couldn’t attain the expected marks required to become a doctor. So I had to choose a different stream.
Q. When did you started playing hockey?
I started playing hockey when I was in the 6th standard. I used to take part in the summer coaching camps conducted by BEL Colony Youth Association, under coach Mr Prakash V R. In fact, my mom and dad wanted me to take up cricket, but I chose hockey and now my family members watch more hockey than cricket.
Q. When did you take up umpire seriously? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I started umpiring in the year 1999/2000 (During my college days I was not much in touch with hockey). After finishing my college studies, I was looking for a job in the airline industry; but unfortunately, it didn’t happen as I desired. Instead of staying idle at home, I got involved with hockey again and started umpiring in KSHA matches. Usually everyone wants to be a player than being an official; I also tried my hand as a player but I couldn’t as there were much better players than me in those days. A good friend of mine was umpiring in the KSHA league, and seeing him I also thought of starting umpiring. One day Krishnamurthy Sir and other KSHA officials saw me umpiring and encouraged me to pursue it. Soon, I grew through the ranks and cleared the national grade test at Karimnagar during the 2001 National Junior (U-19) Hockey Championship.
Q. Can you throw light on your first umpiring assignment in the domestic circuit?
My first big assignment was the 2002 Senior Nehru Hockey Tournament held at New Delhi. Javed Shaikh of Mumbai and I were called upon to officiate in the said tournament. Both of us showed good umpiring skills and since then there has been no looking back.
Q Which was your first international tournament?
The 2003 Four-Nations Twin Leg Hockey Tournament held at Perth and Sydney in Australia. I got a call from Krishnamurthy Sir, who informed me that I have been appointed as an umpire for this tournament and he congratulated me. This was a red-letter day for me – a moment any sportsperson would cherish. It was an amazing experience; no words would be enough to explain my joy. I accompanied the Indian hockey team for that tournament.
The Pakistan-Australia match was my first assignment. I was nervous in the first 10-15 fifteen minutes of play but gradually I settled down and the match went off well. The umpires manager Mr Don Prior was impressed with my umpiring and also gave me a few pointers. Before the start of the match, the Indian players encouraged me to do well in that game. I’m really thankful to them for wishing me good luck on my first international assignment.
Q. You umpired in the 2005 Junior World Cup. Tell us a bit about these assignments.
The 2005 Junior World Cup was held at Rotterdam, Netherlands. It was my first junior World Cup assignment. I travelled along with the Indian Junior team to Bilbao before moving towards Rotterdam, The team was coached by Harinder Singh. I umpired in a few practice matches and in a Four-Nations tournament to prepare myself for the big event.
Q. You umpired in the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai. It must have been quite an experience officiating in India.
I got a last minute call from FIH since one of the umpires pulled out due to some reasons. It was my first Champions Trophy tournament featuring all the top-ranked nations. I was the youngest among all the experienced FIH appointed officials. It was a great platform for me to learn from these seasoned umpires.
Q. Officiating in the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi must have been a big moment of your umpiring career. Your thoughts.
It was my first World Cup and that too on home turf. I was geared up to blow the whistle in front of my own countrymen but I was laid low by ‘Delhi belly’. By the time I recovered, half the championship was finished. I was not at all happy at the turn of events. I pray that such adverse things do not happen to any umpire, especially in a big event. The ‘Delhi belly’ took its toll on few other officials as well.
Q. What was like officiating at the 2012 London Olympics?
I was eager to hear from FIH about umpiring in the London Olympics. So when I got the email from FIH about my selection, I was thrilled to bits. I was the happiest man on earth that day. I was in Hassan for a state-level tournament and started calling up my dear and near ones informing them about my Olympic selection. Then I saw the ‘Breaking News’ on news channels. I felt proud that I was going to representing the nation in the world’s biggest sporting event .
Q You made it to the FIH World Development Panel. Another umpiring high of your career?
I was included in the FIH World Development Panel on July 16, 2009. It was definitely a moment to cherish as it meant that I would be eligible to officiate in Olympic and World Cup matches.
Q Share us your experiences of officiating in the Hero Hockey India League.
The HIL was another exciting experience. Five different locations, different playing strategies, different atmosphere, blend of youngsters, foreign players from different parts of the globe made for awesome variety. All these factors made HIL a huge success.
Q. How lucrative hockey umpiring job is? Would you advise youngsters to take it up?
Umpiring doesn’t make you rich or poor by money. But officials do expect remuneration for their dedication towards the sport. Till date, I haven’t heard any benefits or recognition for hockey umpires from the central or state governments such as job or cash awards. Aren’t umpires human beings who also serve the game? The game of hockey has taught me a lot about life; I have made number of friends and well-wishers all across the globe – players, coaches and officials. I feel proud to be involved with hockey. It is a great boost when the authorities concerned recognize the efforts and dedication of an individual who has served the nation with distinction. It feels bad that we (hockey umpires) are not recognized at all when it comes to jobs or cash awards. Hockey umpires deserve government recognition. Big companies have to start recruiting young umpires as they recruit players and encourage them. It is the efforts of players/umpires/coaches that make a match spectator-friendly and everyone can enjoy it.
I’m currently employed with KSHA and work under Krishnamurthy Sir. KSHA has helped me by offering me a job till I find a suitable job where I can lead a happy sporting life like other national players do. I will definitely encourage youngsters to take up umpiring. It’s an art where you enjoy to the full.
Q. Who is your favourite hockey umpire and why?
At the domestic level, I like the umpiring of Shakeel Qureshi and Satinder Kumar Sharma (from India) and Henrik Ehlers, John Wright, David Gentles, Andy Mair from abroad, whom I have learnt skills, management, decision-making, etc.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your family?
I live along with my parents. My father Mr Venkateshappa is a retiree from Bharath Electronics (BEL) and my mother Mrs Anasooya, too, is a retiree from BEL. I’m married to Shobha from Bangalore in the year 2008 and we have a two-year son named Manvith Gowda. I have two elder sisters (Usha and Asha) who are happily married.
Q. What other things Raghu Prasad does when he is not officiating in hockey matches?
I try to spend time with my family on Sundays. On other days, I work at KSHA looking after hockey-related matters. I spend time nourishing and motivating young umpires who have taken umpiring besides enjoying few moments with friends during my free time at KSHA.