Olympic shock: 'Hurt' Rajpal withdraws from qualifier
INDIAN HOCKEY never ceases to amaze. With less than a month to go for the crucial Olympic qualifiers in Santiago, Chile, key striker Rajpal Singh has refused to play saying, "enough is enough".
Talking to Hindustan Times from Perth, where the team is currently on a preparatory tour, Rajpal said he would not play the qualifiers. The team returns to India on Feb. 15 before proceeding to Santiago, and Rajpal said he would stay back at home. "My self-respect is most important for me," he said, when asked about the reason for pulling out.
That in itself is surprising enough, since treating players with indifference is not something uncommon in Indian hockey. "I am here (in Australia) with the team to play and perform, not on a paid holiday or a tourist," he added, hurt and anger clear in his voice.
Rajpal has been a key member of the Indian squad for some time now. Especially, ever since Joaquim Carvalho took charge early in 2007, he has been amongst the few players to consistently figure in the coach's plans for the qualifiers.
Interestingly, Rajpal - who has played under Carvalho for long, for the Indian Oil team in the domestic circuit - is yet to inform the team management about his decision. Asked about it, IHF president KPS Gill also claimed ignorance. "I have no information about whatever you are saying. I can say anything only after I get complete information," he said.
Any replacement at this late hour will not only disturb the entire combination, it will also affect the team morale. Rajpal, though, has more than made up his mind.
"It's not that I won't play ever again, but not at the cost of my respect," he said. Asked if there were any problems with the coach, Rajpal refused to say anything directly, but hinted at it. "I have thought it over. There is no injury, but I am sure I will not go for the qualifiers. Bahut ho gaya (enough is enough)," he said.
Other players, though, refused to comment on the issue. "I have no idea about it," said a senior player.
Asked if his decision could well result in finishing his international career, Rajpal admitted he knew the downside but would not reconsider. "India ke liye to shayad baad me fir bhi khel sakte hain. Izzat ek baar chali gayi to wapas nahi aati (I may get to play for India later also. But respect, once lost, cannot come back)," he said.
This is not the first time an Indian hockey player has decided to quit playing midway. In 2006, just before the World Cup, talented midfielder Bimal Lakra quit a training camp in Bangalore, complaining about constant mistreatment. Recently, Viren Rasquinha called it a day after being dropped at the 11th hour before the Doha Asian Games (2006) and kept out of the national squad for more than a year without being given a reason.
Though players keep coming in and going out of the national team, it's the first time a player has come out in the open to protest against "disrespect". One wonders if this is the beginning of Indian players finally demanding their dues after years of shabby treatment.