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Cash-rich event rocks India Olympic hopes

india Updated: Dec 01, 2011 13:29 IST

AFP
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Indian field hockey stood divided on Thursday over a lucrative, but unsanctioned, event along the lines of cricket's Indian Premier League, threatening the country's Olympic dream.

The bone of contention is the multi-million dollar World Series Hockey (WSH), a tournament promoted by a television network, whose inaugural edition takes place across India from December 17 to January 22.

One of the richest events in the sport, with prize and appearance money topping $3 million, it has attracted star players from India and a few from overseas in a franchise-based contest.

But the event does not have the support of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), which has warned that any player taking part will be banned from international tournaments like the Olympics.

The world governing body opposes the tournament because it is backed by the rebel Indian Hockey Federation and not the officially recognised Hockey India.

The FIH threat has prompted most of the world's current top stars to stay away, with only a handful like Brent Livermore of Australia, Lucas Vila of Argentina and Rodeigo Garza signing up.

Even Pakistan, who had earlier allowed its players to travel to India for the tournament, withdrew permission, saying the focus should be on next year's London Olympics.

Hockey India wants its players to stay away because the dates clash with a national camp to prepare for the Olympic qualifying tournament in New Delhi in February-March, which India must win to make the trip to London.

National coach Michael Nobbs of Australia has dubbed the WSH as "one for retired players" and warned his wards that he will leave them out of the Olympic qualifiers if they take part.

Indian players, who are not paid fees for national duty and see the WSC as a way to secure their financial future, have been caught in the cross-fire between the two rival bodies.

Nimbus Sport, the television network behind the WSH, insist they have signed up at least 150 Indian players and even paid them appearance money reportedly ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 in advance.

Hockey India this week released a letter from six top Indian stars saying they would prefer to play for their country and wanted the WSC put off till after the Olympic qualifiers.

Nimbus official Yannick Colaco dismissed the letter, saying he was "unable to judge whether it is a fabrication or an extortion".

"What we do know for a fact is that not a single WSH player has communicated in person or e-mail to us regarding his non-availability for the inaugural edition," Colaco said in a statement.

Colaco had earlier said that Nimbus will take legal action if players were barred from the WSH or left out of the national team.

Indian players, who are currently in South Africa representing the country in the FIH's Champions Challenge tournament, were not available for comment.

Hockey, which remains India's national sport despite the country's obsession with cricket, has been relegated to the background in recent years due to the team's poor showing in major events.

India won the last of their eight Olympic gold medals at the western-boycotted Moscow Games in 1980 and failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.