India's hockey crisis deepened as Hockey India (HI), after failing to resolve the outstanding payments issue, warned the protesting players on Tuesday that if they did not return to the camp, a new team would have to be drafted for the New Delhi World Cup.
Players sent out a strong message to HI that if the national organisation cannot pay them, they would spend their own money and play in next month's World Cup.
As the deadlock continued, Sports Mminister M S Gill asked the hockey players to get back to training, and promised to take up their grievances with the elected HI soon after the World Cup.
In Pune, Hockey India president A K Mattoo said: "They (players) came up with a break-up that each player has to be paid for the year 2009. We don't have the money to meet their demands. We don't have any other choice. I told them if they do not resume training from tomorrow, we are going to have a new set of players for the World Cup."
"Money is more important for them and the country is secondary," he said.
Mattoo also added HI will chose players from all over the country and prepare them for next month's World Cup.
"We will be left with no other option, but to select another set of players from across the country, give them a crash course through our coaches Jose Brasa and Harendra Singh, and I am sure that they will do well in the World Cup. But I hope it does not come to that point and players resume training," he said.
The players made it clear that they were only asking for the match fees for playing last year plus the incentive bonus for doing well on the tours of Canada and New Zealand where they won the series.
India forward Prabhjot Singh said the players were not given any assurance by HI officials.
"We went there and whatever we wanted, we gave them in writing. In 2009, we had some podium finishes and we want incentive or reward. The first thing they said is that 'we don't have money'."
"If that is the scene, then how can we come to a solution? We said we would like to have a conversation with Sahara, the sponsors of the team. But there also we did not get any assurance. We don't know anything about their (HI) accounts, expenditure."
"They are saying that they will give us just Rs 25,000 per player."
"So, we came back with the draft. We are back to square one," Prabhjot Singh said with the entire team backing him.
India captain Rajpal Singh said: "We will play the World Cup with our own money if it (HI) can't pay us. We are a national team, not a school team."
"We are being heard only because of the World Cup. You think we would be discussing here right now had it not been for the World Cup? Why only players are told that they should play for the country? Why can't the administrators think about the country?" asked forward Deepak Thakur.
Sports Minister Gill in a statement said: "I appeal to the players to immediately join training and continue so, focussing on winning the World Cup."
Expressing concern over the stand-off between Hockey India (HI) and players over outstanding payments, Gill said the Sports Authority of India is closely monitoring the developments.
"I have noted the grievances of the players as projected through the media reports in the past few days. I am concerned at the standoff between Hockey India and the national team over issues of payments."
Gill reminded the players that after the supersession of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), the re-incarnated Hockey India is an ad-hoc body.
"The election process for Hockey India, under the guidance of the ministry's observer and the FIH, is in the process, and will be completed on February 7, when a regular management, with a regular tenure, will assume office."
"After the World Cup, the sports ministry will take up the issues raised by the players with the elected Hockey India and find satisfactory solution," Gill said.