New Delhi: All the talk between Hockey India and the six senior players over the non-payment of sponsorship money came to nought on Sunday when the 22-member squad continued to boycott training at the Balewadi Complex in Pune.
Miffed over Hockey India's "false promises and overlooking of the players' grievances", the players said they will stick to their stand of "no pay, no practice".
On Saturday, skipper Rajpal Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Sandeep Singh, Tushar Khandker, Arjun Halappa and Sardara Singh had held closed door meetings with Hockey India president A.K. Mattoo at a city hotel here. The national body managed to convince those present saying it was in debt, and would need atleast 20 days to sort out the payment issue. All seemed hunky dory with skipper Rajpal even telling the media that the team would resume training from Sunday.
Things took a turn for the worse though when the players reached Pune and discussed matters with their teammates, who felt that "Hockey India had made a mockery of their demands by adopting a very convenient stance."
Team sources suggest that only two of the six players present in Saturday's meeting gave in to Hockey India's pressure tactics even as the rest stuck to their demands.
Said a senior player from Pune, "It is a fight for our rights. Hockey India says that it does not have funds, but we are not asking for astronomical amounts. A regular payment of Rs 25,000 per month is nothing after Sahara has paid it in crores."
The players have now demanded a direct meeting with team sponsors Sahara India to resolve the matter.
Sahara India paid the players a monthly salary of Rs 25,000 in 2004 only. In subsequent years, the players have been paid on a tournament-to-tournament basis (courtesy funds provided by the government), with almost no financial inputs from the erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation or the current administrators.
It is now an open secret that most fringe players prefer to play for their companies than train in the national camp, a move that has hampered Indian hockey since long.
"Playing for India is our pride, and all of us have spent many years without proper monetary gains, diet or even staying conditions. But it is high time that the authorities look into the matter. Graded systems and incentives for performances are our two demands," said striker Arjun Halappa, a sentiment echoed by the rest.
The players' tough stance has put Hockey India into further trouble, which rushed Maharashtra Hockey Association secretary Ekram Khan to help sort out the issue. Khan held a late night meeting with the players, but to no avail.
"Yesterday, we had such a meeting with them where everything was discussed and a solution was reached. Now they come out saying they are going on strike again. This is blackmail," said treasurer Narinder Batra, who was furious with the boys.
Rajpal, when contacted, said, "We are not going back to the camp unless our demands are met. It was a marathon meeting that went on and on. We returned and conveyed to our team members what HI had offered us. But they felt it was too insignificant an amount and there was no question of ending the strike."
National coach Harendra Singh refused to take sides, saying all he wanted was the players to resume training as soon as possible.
FIH observer to attend HI meeting tomorrow
Meanwhile, FIH vice president Antonio von Ondarza will be present in his observer's capacity as Hockey India goes into a huddle on Monday to sort out its affiliation mess and take stock of the government guidelines before finalising the election date.
HI elections were slated for January 29 but it got deferred after the interim national body failed to issue a 21-day notice, necessary to be given before the poll date as per its constitution, due to the pending affiliation matters.
The Asian Age