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India's big hockey switch

Despite Olympics being close at hand, players make a beeline for World Series of Hockey.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2012 02:17 IST
Saurabh Duggal
Saurabh Duggal
Hindustan Times

While Hockey India (HI) continues to dismiss the threat of the World Series of Hockey (WSH), its former skipper, Rajpal Singh, has decided to join the 'league of rebels' and is all set to turn out for the Delhi Wizards.

Rajpal made up his mind on Monday, but another former skipper, Arjun Halappa, Vikram Pillay, Ravipal, Bharat Chikara and Dharamvir Singh had decided to move to the lucrative league the day HI announced the squad for Olympic Qualifiers a week back.

HT has learnt that nearly half of the 33 players, whose names have been submitted to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for the London Olympic Games preparatory camp, have made up their mind to play in the WSH.

The exclusion of these players from the Qualifiers, coupled with the fact that HI was playing spoilsport by planning a camp in the middle of the Feb 29-April 4 League, was the proverbial last straw. "HI's plan to organise the London Olympic Games camp from March 15 onwards, did not go down well with almost all the players contracted with the WSH and they made up their mind then and there," said an HI official.

Things now seem to be moving towards a vertical split, as HI is ready with a contingency plan in the event the national campers desert the federation for the Indian Hockey Federation and Nimbus Sports joint venture.

A senior HI selector said that a "Plan B" was ready and a lot of juniors would be blooded into the squad in the event of an en masse migration of players. "HI knew that many national campers would join the rival league. That's why we prepared another list of the hockey probables, mostly juniors, for the national camp, in December-January last year," said the selector. "We can't stop players (from migrating), but we can identify replacements. So, once we make it to the Olympics, our preparations will not be jeopardised." This development could land the sport in a piquant situation as the team, which earns the country a quota place --- more or less a certainty - could well be replaced by a young and relatively inexperienced squad.

Top players out
Rajpal, who led the team to podium finish in the 2010 Commonwealth and Asian Games and in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy, figures in the list of 33 probables submitted to SAI, but was dropped from the current squad on medical grounds. Seasoned campaigner, Arjuna Halappa, who was in the list of stand-bys for the Olympic Qualifiers currently underway, will captain the Karnataka Lions.

"The HI has decided that they do not require our services. So, we thought we'd better be part of WSH," said Ravipal, who was part of the India squad for both the CWG and the Asiad. "We have always put country above self, but when it is clear that we will not be a part of the national team anymore, we decided not to miss the opportunity to play in front of the home crowd," he added.

"WSH is good for the sport. It will generate a huge investment," said Halappa. Yannick Colaco, Chief Operating Officer, Nimbus, said, "We are all for hockey. Playing in the WSH gives players a chance to rub shoulders with the best and it will provide them monetary benefits."

In a last ditch effort to stop players from switching over, HI has organised a camp till Feb 27 for the national campers not part of the current squad. "We have asked the players to join their teams on Feb 28," said Colaco in response to the developments.

First Published: Feb 20, 2012 23:49 IST