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September 15, 1999


send this column to a friend Cedric D'Souza

Of image building and selection capers

Over the last couple of months the Indian Hockey Federation has sent three teams out on international tours. The idea behind this move is to ensure that youngsters in the team gain valuable experience. Amidst all the controversy surrounding Indian hockey, this is the best thing to happen in a long time. It is well-known there is a huge disparity in the levels between our domestic circuit and international competition. The more our teams play abroad, the better they will get.

There is a cost factor attached to an exercise like this, but the returns on the initial investment is far greater, especially if the team's performance is carefully analysed, mistakes identified and subsequently rectified before the next international exposure. However, if the above is not done, then the sole purpose of gaining experience will be lost and the age-old mistakes that we carry from tour to tour will persist.

I am glad some of my thoughts have ultimately found favour with the IHF brass. This assumption is based on statements made by the IHF president, wherein he has gone on record saying he wants to give the team maximum exposure before the Olympics and the team is watching video tapes to rectify their mistakes.

This is a welcome change to his stance of 1996, when he kept shooting down my repeated requests for a video technician to accompany the team, saying we did not need this facility. I felt sorry he did not accede to my request when I was coach, but am happy that wiser counsel has ultimately prevailed.

One wishes something similar will be done to improve our poor image on the international front. Every negative outburst adds to this distressing situation. Whilst speaking to the international press or officials, you will always hear incidents that have occurred during an Indian team's travels abroad. Sadly, many a time, it is the lack of decorum by our team/officials in public view that has brought disrepute to the country.

Instances of officials turning up for matches in an inebriated state; coaches running onto the ground and fighting with the umpires; officials crying foul at the drop of a hat and calling the host nation cheats and players abusing and reacting to spectator taunts have only tarnished India's image further. Added to that are doubts about the authenticity of our players's ages during junior team tournaments.

When will this nonsense stop? Don't our officials/players realise that these rash acts are detrimental to India's fortunes at the international level? We have to put an end to vociferous outbursts and redeem ourselves in the eyes of the hockey world. No amount of curses or castigation will make the umpire change his decision or win us support. In fact, it only makes matters worse.

In this context, it is worth pondering over some critical occurrences during the 1996 Olympics which cost India a berth in the semi-finals. Two penalty-strokes and at least six penalty-corners were denied to us during the tournament. There were two instances that even today take the wind out of my sails. They could have fetched us penalty-strokes at crucial junctures and changed our fortunes.

One instance was Germany's Carsten Fischer's push from behind on Baljeet Saini when he was poised to strike in the last-minute (this robbed us of the vital point we needed to enter the last four, and put Germany into the semi-finals). The other was against Pakistan, when a goal-bound Pargat Singh penalty-corner struck Mohammad Usman on the foot.

At that time I realised the dice was not rolling in our favour and had every reason to emote and blast the umpires for what we all believed was biased umpiring. Yet, we exercised considerable restraint when protesting/chatting with the tournament committee. We firmly, but politely, told the tournament committee we had been let down by some decisions of the umpires, which culminated in loss of points and ruined all efforts put in over the last four years. All this was done on a one on one basis with the umpires's manager, far from the eyes of the public or press. He was most sympathetic to our cause and confidentially told me that although senior officials were posted for India's games, he was extremely sorry about what had happened.

It is my feeling that the tournament committee (without publicly endorsing it) felt India got a raw deal during the tournament and thus thought it appropriate to reward us with the Fair Play trophy, something we have never achieved in all our years in the game. Not much of a consolation though, but still recognition for our true sportsmanship and the manner in which we conducted ourselves.

Our national team has just returned from a Test series against South Africa. We lost the series 3-1 amidst much controversy, with the manager making numerous charges against the host nation, saying the umpiring was biased. Whatever the grouse may be, we must learn to take defeat in our stride and control ourselves. This does not mean one must just roll over and play dead. Sure, one's voice can be heard by using tact. Remember, we were their guests and one must behave in a manner befitting a guest.

In my opinion, the best way out of a difficult situation is firstly to express gratitude for the host country's hospitality, and then interact with the umpires after the match or over a beer and discus and communicate views, suggestions and grievances.

Losing the series does not mean the end of the world; these tours are meant for building rapport, combination, experience, assessing strengths and weaknesses, testing character and skills etc. The lessons should help us to identify and rectify our mistakes, learn and study the opposition's strengths and weaknesses, and plan ahead for the next encounter/future.

Team selection

The selection process of the team that went to Europe leaves quite a bitter taste in the mouth. Not a single selector was on view during the selection trials at Patiala. Instead, numerous state officials along with three IHF office-bearers, K P S Gill, Jyotikumaran and Tyagi, were present. Dr Raj Kumar from Rajasthan, D S Moorthy from Karnataka, Chandra Shekar from Chandigarh, Colonel Siddiqui from the Services Sports Control Board, Balakrishnan from Indian Airlines, Surinder Singh Sodhi from Punjab, two representatives from Universities (names not known), and Saini from Ropar were the state officials present.

I leave it to your discretion to decipher what the nine state officials were doing there, and what transpired during the two-hour meeting prior to the team being announced. I can lay my last bottom rupee that they were not talking about the weather!

What really grieves me is that nine players -- Rajinder Singh, Vikram Pillay, Cyprian Aind, Rajesh Chauhan, Ajinderpal Singh, Ravinder Singh, Y S Rawat, Jagmohan Singh and Hasrat Quereshi -- who were not even in the training camp found a place in the team! How can a player be selected when he is not physically present during the trials? Isn't this baffling!

To make matters worse, the newly-appointed captain, Rajesh Chauhan, was not even in the list of probables. Aren't we making a mockery of the game?

Of course, if questions are asked, there will be ready answers and excuses. All this shows a disregard for any policy or norms. In the end, it only provides enough food for thought that this selection was based on the quota system.

For hockey lovers and professionals like me, a selection procedure like this makes one's blood boil. Indeed, it is time some higher authority questions the IHF's whimsical functioning. Otherwise, this policy of ad hocism and unaccountability will continue to suffocate the growth of Indian hockey.

Cedric D'Souza

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