By S. Thyagarajan
Chennai: Those praying to see light at the end of the tunnel in the confrontation between the players and Hockey India over the payment dispute must have heaved a sigh of relief. The camp will resume on Thursday.
Six days after the players suspended training for the forthcoming World Cup — and after an avalanche of words, written and spoken, in the media — a solution emerged on Wednesday, thanks to the timely intervention of the official sponsor, Sahara Pariwar, releasing Rs. one crore to be disbursed to the campers.
All that happened during the week was unprecedented in more ways than one. Never before had the players demonstrated their solidarity over a cause with such intensity. What must probably have heartened them was the consensus across the country, triggering favourable responses from chief ministers, industrialists and, most importantly, former internationals.
Now, there is realisation that for far too long the players had been taken for granted and cheated on the promises made.
It is undeniable that the events leading to Hockey India threatening to form a new team, or shutting down the camp, shocked many.
With only weeks left for the World Cup in New Delhi, the players should now see the bottom line. They have, quite positively, made their statement to the nation on the injustice done to them. But the time has come to get back into rhythm. Compensating for almost a week’s loss of training is not going to be easy. The task before them is gigantic, given that the expectations are now pegged at a new level than before the conflict.
The solutions found, at best, are temporary — just enough to defuse the crisis, a knee-jerk, panic reaction, so to say. The issue of payment needs to be examined in depth, and a clear-cut agreement should be in place in the quickest possible time.
The money aspect is now the focal point of players wanting to don national colours. Pragmatically evaluated, not all demands laid on the table by the players can be conceded.
The generosity of the sponsor should cover all layers of players; and a sizable proportion earmarked for development, meeting medical expenses and even creating a pension scheme to help the old and indigent players.
It is not that these are being talked about now; they have been in the air for years receiving little or no attention.
In the midst of the crisis that pushed the administration to despair, the subject of HI elections on February 7 has been relegated to the back burner. If that comes about, the new office-holders who will be in power for a four-year term will be compelled to tackle a host of problems with tact and imagination.
Seen as helpless in the face of a mounting media assault backing the players, the administration runs the risk of facing a flare up any time.
“Such demands can easily spread to other disciplines too,” warned a senior administrator. Clearly, courting players with monetary rewards is a double-edged sword. The lines of limit can easily get blurred.
In this boiling situation, it is worth debating whether the FIH observer, Antonio von Ondarza, should have got himself involved.
It was beyond his brief. This senior FIH administrator could well have maintained a neutral stance rather than air his views — as well meaning as he was — to the media.
The whole episode also makes one wonder about the expenses in flying a big delegation of officials to Pune for talks that eventually failed. Does not HI’s claim of a resource crunch sound hollow?
Thursday, January 14, 2010
By S. Thyagarajan