In 48 hours, India, with eight Olympic gold medals behind them, could be the laughing stock of world hockey and have to select a second string team for next month’s hockey World Cup in New Delhi.
The coaches will then spend the next five weeks preparing this star-less squad to take on the best in the world.
<b1>This was the situation on Tuesday, after 22 of India’s top hockey players rejected Hockey India’s offer of Rs 25,000 each as incentive and refused to resume practice. Stalemate.
Backing the rebellious players are Olympians who have offered to “return” medals they won in the Olympics, World Cup and Asian games to the President to express solidarity with the “aggrieved” players.
“It is not strike but a fight for their dues… and a struggle for their survival”, said Balbir Singh, a member of the hockey squad that won bronze in 1968 Mexico Olympics.
The players prepared a list of monies they believe they should get for winning medals in various 2009 tournaments. At the top — a player who has played all these specified events will be eligible for a Rs 4.5 lakh.
Hockey India’s response to that list was simple. “No”.
“It all adds up to nearly Rs 1.08 crore. We don’t have that kind of money,” said HI president AK Mattoo.
“We told them we have around Rs 30 lakh and are ready to distribute Rs 20 lakh of this,” added Mattoo. “They said they need some written assurance on that. We can’t give it as we are an ad hoc body.” He said HI had thus decided to give the players 48 hours to join camp. “If they don’t return, we will suspend it and re-assemble with new players.”
HI officials are attempting to turn the fracas into a ‘cash versus country’ issue. “We asked them what is more important, ‘the honour of representing your country or money’ and they said money. This is the most unfortunate day in Indian sports,” he said.