Hockey needs overhaul and fresh ideas, say Olympians

March 10th, 2008 - 10:21 pm ICT by admin  


New Delhi, March 10 (IANS) Indians woke up Monday to a calamitous breaking news, that India will not be playing in the Olympic Games hockey competition for the first time in 80 years. Many saw it coming, but they still hoped against hope that the team would somehow put it across Great Britain in the qualifiers at Santiago and manage to be present at the Beijing Games. For all their individual brilliance and skill the Indian team could not gel as a team and as Britain struck not once but twice in the first ten minutes there was panic all round in the Indian rank, and by the hooter it was not clear whether India lost the game as chief coach Joaquim Carvalho said, or Britain were kicking themselves for not knocking in a few more goals.

As the Indians pressed panic button, two players received temporary suspensions with yellow cards as had happened in India’s 2-3 loss in the round-robin match between the two teams.

Britain joined Australia, Holland, Spain, Pakistan, South Korea, South Africa, Belgium, China and Canada. New Zealand secured their berth, beating Argentina in the final in the first qualifier while the third qualifying event takes place in Kakamigahara, Japan next month.

Reactions poured thick and fast from Rahul Gandhi to parliamentarians to the common man in the street to, of course, former players and hockey administrators. Also reacting was one of the girls, Chitranshi, who acted in the film based on hockey, ‘Chak de India’.

Rahul Gandhi said when he visited a hockey academy in the tribal area of Orissa he was told the selection process was unfair and that many of its players had no access to facilities or proper teams to play the game.

“Unless the base of the game is wider and the pool of selection is wider, things cannot improve,” Rahul Gandhi said. For good measure he added that cricket was eclipsing other sports, and that there was plenty of money in cricket.

Coach Carvalho was quick to put in his papers as he had promised when he took over, that he would go if India failed to make it to Beijing. Not many Olympians showed any sympathy for him or the administrators of the game, Indian Hockey Federation president Kunwar Pal Singh Gill in particular.

Even before the daybreak, IHF vice-president Narendra Kumar Batra announced his resignation, blaming Gill and secretary-general K Jothikumaran for the “saddest day in India hockey.”

Gill, however, refused to go or react. He wanted to hear the coach and the support staff before saying anything.

There were saner voices too, 83-year-old former captain Balbir Singh Sr for one. He said he was shocked and hurt as any ardent well-wisher of Indian hockey, but refused to blame one or two officials, coach or the players.

“Such knee-jerk reaction will lead us nowhere, we have to rectify the system and address the problems,” said the great centre-forward who was a member of the victorious 1948 London and 1952 Helsinki Olympic teams.

Another senior Olympian Gubux Singh had no such qualms. He held Carvalho squarely responsible for the humiliation, pointing to two fatal errors by him. Gurbux Singh pointedly held Carvalho responsible for the humiliation. “One was Carvalho’s insistence of not allowing technical adviser Ric Charlesworth to get involved in the planning and composition of the team and of not allowing him to travel to Australia and Chile. Second, the omission of in-form Sandeep Singh and Arjun Halappa.”

Pargat Singh, the only captain to have led India at two Olympic Games, said, “It is the saddest day not only for hockey, but Indian sport.”

The man, who was once appointed a coach for a few weeks by the IHF, added, “While it is easy to blame the players saying they did not perform, but they alone cannot be held responsible. At some level the IHF needs to take the blame.”

Younger Olympians also minced no words. Jagbir called Indian performance as stereotyped and predictable hockey whereas Viren Rasquinha, who recently quit to qualify as a business manager, did not see any purposeful hockey.

Olympian centre-forward Harbinder Singh and Olympian-turned politician Aslam Sher Khan listed the ills of Indian hockey and wanted a thorough shake-up of administration so that a new set-up can bring in fresh ideas.

Harbinder said during his time team selection was so tough that trials used to be extended to see that everyone got a fair run. “There were at least six to eight people fighting for each position. Unfortunately, today players seem to take their positions for granted.”

Screaming channel anchors and enraged experts of the game fed viewers with plenty to think, but at the end of it all, as Olympians Mir Ranjan Negi and Sukhbir Grewal said we see howling and chest-beating only at the time of Olympics.

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