At least in India, money and sport often make strange bedfellows. Without the moolah, you can't get the top dogs whose presence means an event has a bigger draw. At the same time it not reaching the right people at the right time can a disincentive for many aspiring sportspersons.
When Roop Singh, brother of the legendary Dhyan Chand and considered the best hockey exponent of his generation, was on the deathbed, hockey stars were forced to play an exhibition match to raise funds for his treatment. A few years back, poverty-stricken Sylvanus Dung Dung decided to auction his Moscow Olympic Games gold to make both ends meet but the state government stepped in and persuaded him not to take such a step.
The 22-odd hockey players at the World Cup camp here in Pune are justified in not wanting struggle for a living once their playing days are over. So, they have resolved to ask the powers-that-be to pay their dues, including rewards for past performances, a graded contract system and insurance cover.
Agreed that most of them have jobs in public sector undertakings and are drawing decent salaries. But then they are also losing out on the TA/DA at the national camp even as their institutional teams play tournaments across the country. So, are they wrong in seeking remunerations for their efforts on the field?
It is common knowledge that Indian hockey players have never been paid match fee. Occasionally, they have received rewards for winning tournaments or medals. But that has also stopped in the last one year, courtesy the ad-hoc system that has replaced the Indian Hockey Federation.
People are questioning the timing of the protest (the World Cup is barely 6 weeks away) but it seems the players have shrewdly chosen the time to drive home their point. They know it's the right time to grab attention, more so when the Hockey India officials might not be in a position to take stringent action under the media glare. They are also aware that had they taken such a step at some other time, they would have been quietly eased out and the episode forgotten in a couple of days. It happened after the 1998 Asian Games when six top players, including Dhanraj Pillay, Mukesh Kumar, Sabu Varkey, Ashish Ballal, were shown the door by the then IHF chief KPS Gill. The players, this time, are well aware of the public outcry that will ensue if they are thrown out of the team.
Call it blackmail or whatever, the players have shown the same shrewdness with which they have been rubbed on the wrong side by Hockey India.