Saturday, January 9, 2010

Boycott reminiscent of 1975 camp

By Prabhjot Singh

Chandigarh: They say history repeats itself. And hockey players have proved this adage right. The boycott of World Cup camp by Indian hockey players at Pune today is not the first of its type as Indian hockey is full of such instances. The first and the foremost of such boycott threat dates back to 1975, weeks before our national team left the shores of the country to participate in the third World Cup Hockey Tournament in Kuala Lumpur.
The provocation for the 1975 team was infighting in the Indian Hockey Federation. The then President, Ashwani Kumar, had quit and there were rival bodies, each one claiming itself to be the genuine body administering the control of the game in the country. Fortunately, this infighting did not create any problem or hurdle in the training of the team as it was with the Punjab government.
Giani Zail Singh, the then Chief Minister of Punjab had constituted a small group of experts to prepare a blue print for the training of the team. The group comprised three-times Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh Senior, coach Gurcharan Singh Bodhi, and the then Director of the PGI, Dr P.N. Chhuttani.
DR Chhuttani had named the Deputy Medical Superintendent of Nehru Hospital, Dr Rajinder Kalra, as medical officer attached with the camp. All physical fitness and medical tests on players were conducted at the PGI while Dr SS Gill of the Department of Physical Education of Panjab University was named physical trainer of the team. The issue of poor fiscal health of players had also come up then as the team had only a few players who held the rank of a gazetted officer. They included Harcharan Singh, Ajit Pal and HJS Chimni.
But the provocation to boycott was infighting in the IHF. The team wanted to go under the banner of the Indian Olympic Association. And interestingly, the team rode the victory podium by winning the only World Cup for the nation. Ultimately, the IHF led by Dr MAM Ramaswamy, was recognised by the IOA as well as the FIH and a tournament was organised at Chennai to celebrate Kuala Lumpur’s gold medal success and to felicitate the then FIH chief, Rene Frank.
Boycotts did not leave India alone. In the subsequent 1978 World Cup, some senior players, including Surjit Singh, Baldev Singh and Virinder Singh, walked out of the national camp at Patiala in protest against certain remarks made by the then Chairman of the Selection Committee against players belonging to a particular community.
In the subsequent tournament, fourth World Cup, played at Buenos Aires, finally when Indian team participated, it was without Surjit Singh while both Virinder Singh and Baldev Singh agreed to return after series of hectic parleys had taken place involving these three senior players, then Union Minister of State for Sports, Dhana Singh Gulshan - father of present Faridkot MP Paramjit Kaur Gulshan - and the Indian Hockey Federation.
Gopal Bhengra and Gurdishpal Singh of Chandigarh were announced as replacements for Baldev and Surjit Singh. When Baldev returned, Gurdishpal was dropped. The team did not perform well and ended without a medal. So Indian hockey is used to such upheavals on the eve of major competitions.

The Tribune