India women’s hockey team captain Ritu Rani, who was reportedly dropped from the Olympic squad, reacted strongly to her ouster.
Rani, who left the national camp at the SAI centre in Bengaluru and returned to her Shahabad residence on Thursday, said she was “disappointed” with the development, coming as it did days before the announcement of the squad here on Tuesday.
“I am disappointed,” she told HT. “I gave it my all to earn the Olympic quota for the team. Being left out at this stage is heartbreaking.”
Rani, 24, considered one of the fittest players in the team, was reportedly dropped because of her indifferent form and “attitude” problems. Also, chief coach Neil Hawgood was reportedly unhappy that she left the camp to attend her engagement ceremony. Rani got engaged to Patiala-based Punjabi singer Harsh Sharma on June 12.
“It’s correct Ritu is not in the Olympic team. Her exclusion is solely on two counts --- her (poor) performance and attitude,” a senior member of the team management said on Saturday.
However, the reasons didn’t cut ice with Ritu, who led India to their maiden Olympic berth in 36 years.
“They are citing my engagement as a reason for my loss in focus. I have repeatedly said that I am fully focused on the Olympics. Don’t athletes have a personal life? It’s not as if getting engaged will suddenly change my focus,” she said.
“I was not part of the team that lost in New Zealand and Australia. I didn’t ask to be rested, but they rested me for the Australia series. Now they are blaming my form. It’s alright if they give the captaincy to someone else, but I at least deserve a place in the side.
“On July 6 (Wednesday), I was informed I am not in the initial shortlist of 20 players. They said those who were not selected could leave. I left the camp next day with three other players. I was following instructions. Now, it is being said that I left the camp on my own,” she added.
India, ranked 13th, finished sixth in the eight-nation Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand (April 2-10) and fourth in the invitational Four Nations Tournament in Darwin, Australia (May 25-June 5).
India won a solitary match against Canada, ranked five places below them on both the tours. In between, Ritu led India to a disastrous tour to England, where the girls lost all their five matches.
Hockey India president Narinder Batra refused to comment.
“I am the sole authority in Hockey India to talk, and I have nothing to say. All I can say is the 16-member team for the Olympics will be announced on Tuesday,” he said.
In Ritu’s absence, forward Rani Rampal is expected to lead the team. The 21-year-old, however, chose to play safe on the issue. “It’s a call taken by the management and I would not want to comment on that,” she said soon after landing in the Capital from Bengaluru.