Baljit Singh: The case of Life being Cruel!

LIFE CAN be cruel. Just when you start feeling that everything has fallen in place, the next moment something unexpected happens. The hard work you have put in becomes zilch in a moment. This is what has happened to star Indian hockey goalkeeper, Baljit Singh. Baljit sustained a career-threatening eye injury while he was practicing at a camp at Pune. Baljit’s right eye’s retina, cornea and lens were  damaged. Baljit underwent an eye surgery at New Delhi’s AIIMS hospital on July 18, but doctors have not promised too much.

It has been ten days since he was operated, but it appears that vision has not yet returned to the injured eye. In an interview to the IBN, Baljit said, “I feel scared that if I don’t recover in time, it may be difficult for me to come back to the game and be fit for the game again.

And if this doesn’t get better – the visibility, then the future seems very dark for me, as far as the game is concerned. I am very worried about this.” The young player was seen as the pillar in the Indian hockey team. His absence would have an impact on the team’s overall performance as well. He was awarded India’s Best Player at Punjab’s Gold Tournament last year. And since then he has never looked back. He was in prime form with high fitness levels and was raring to make a big name for himself. The stage was set but this injury has taken away his chances. A promising career and a great talent is in danger of being finished before it really took off.

All I can do is hope and pray and hope for his recovery. I hope that Baljit will get the full support of the Indian Hockey Federation and the sports ministry. He must be provided with the best treatment available so that his dream does not die young.

The Revival of Indian Hockey: Finalist of Sultan Azlan Shah

Indian HockeyThe unexpected has happened in the Hockey. With all news coverage going to IPL, we have completely forgotten the Hockey being played somewhere. After missing the berth in Olympics this is some good news for hockey fans in the country. The ouster of KPS Gill has proved to be the lucky decision as India moved to finals after the gap of 12 years in the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament. It’s a moment of glory for Indian hockey, after the decline witnessed in the past few months.
The young Indian team today beat Malaysia in the last league match by 2-1 to sideline arch rivals Pakistan and enter the finals at Ipoh in Malaysia. Shivendra Singh (9th minute) and Sandeep Singh (10th minute) scored goals very early in the match and that put India in the driver’s seat in the crucial match and they maintained the lead till the last minute before Mohammad Amin Rahim shot a goal in the last minute in the Indian post. The victory was essential for India because if the match would have ended in a draw it would have benefited to the Pakistan to reach in finals because of the better goal difference.
India gathered 12 points from their six matches and will take on Argentina, who have finished with 14 points, on Sunday in the finals. India lost to Argentina by 1-5 in the league clash.
India started the tournament on a sorry note by losing the first two matches against Argentina and New Zealand but then pulled up their socks to turn things around and the win over the hosts was their fourth consecutive victory beating Canada, Belgium, Pakistan and Malaysia.

IHF Suspended- A Welcome Move

K P S Gill’s 15-year tenure as the hockey boss came to an unceremonious end with the Indian Olympic Association removing him by suspending the IHF and appointing an ad-hoc committee, headed by former Olympian Aslam Sher Khan. The ‘unanimous’ decision to suspend IHF was taken at an emergency meeting called by the IOA following the sting operation which caught Secretary K Jothikumaran purportedly accepting bribe to select a player in the national team.

The ad-hoc commiittee will have hockey greats such as Ashok Kumar, Dhanraj Pillay, Ajit Pal Singh and Zafar Iqbal as the other members.

“It is a painful decision that we made today. But it had to be taken since there were corruption allegations. We have taken the decision after discussions with former Olympians, captains and all those who have played for India,” IOA President Suresh Kalmadi told a packed press conference.

“Gill was there (meeting) throughout. It was a unanimous decision and no one spoke against it. We have great respect for K P S Gill and it is not personal. Jothikumaran did not come unfortunately, we wanted to hear him. It was an opportunity for him to present his case,” he said.

Indian Express

A Glimpse into the Past (Hindustan Times dated 29/04/08)

THE INDIAN Olympic Association (IOA) repeated history after 32 years by suspending the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF).

It was in 1974 that the IOA had suspended the IHF for the first time after the Federation International de Hockey (FIH) had disaffiliated it following a series of disputes in the federation.

The IOA began managing the hockey affairs and the country’s participation in the 1975 World Cup was possible due to this development. Eventually, India went on to become world champions.

“There were disputes in the IHF and taking a serious note the IOA suspended the federation towards the end of 1974. The-then Punjab chief minister, Giani Zail Singh, offered to host the team’s preparation for the World Cup and thethen IOA president, Raja Bhalendra Singh, accepted the offer,” said Balbir Singh, who was named administrative officer of the camp and was later made chief coach-cum-manager of the team.

Balbir recalled, “The camp was held at the Punjab University and everyone extended their support for the cause. I took charge of the camp on November 14 and the only practice session I missed was on the afternoon of December 29 when my father was cremated. That was the passion we had towards our national sport.”

“After the IHF’s suspension, we became the world champions. Let’s see what’s on offer this time,” said the triple Olympics gold medallist. “In 1975, every player contributed his best and we won the title. If everybody gives his best, we can again become world champs.”

On the latest development, Balbir remarked, “Change is always for the better and our system was demanding this for a long time. It has finally happened. Hopefully, it will be towards the betterment of the sport.”

The Hockey Muddle

I DON’T know what is going on in the minds of hockey administrators worldwide. The Federation of International Hockey (FIH) recently said that India might loose the opportunity to host the 2010 world cup. The FIH is worried at India’s falling standards and despite devising a ‘Promoting Indian Hockey’ project, the country has failed to rise above the bar. The decision was taken at the Executive Board meeting of federation.

Prabodh TirkeyThe hockey, which is already in cold after failing to qualify for the Olympics, this could be the final blow to revival of Indian hockey. “I will respond to these things at a later stage. We do not have an instant coffee machine that you can get results immediately. It takes time to regain your position. We have put down the process in place and the results will take some time,” was the reply of KPS Gill after the debacle at Chile. Even now, he is only worried about his job and only god knows what these administrators are doing!

Gill has given a very good reply to the threat of FIH. He seemed hardly perturbed by FIH’s threat to consider moving the 2010 world cup (hockey) out of India if his federation did not get its act together. “We are prepared if the world cup is not held in India. We have not had the world cup here for ages,” he said. Isn’t that a ‘too cool’ attitude? Being cool is perhaps the mantra of Gill towards Indian hockey. But I just want to say that Gill had no right to ridicule the players who play for the country by dint of their merit. They are selected and not elected! A player is selected based on his merit only, while any stupid person can win elections.

The sports minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, is also behaving like a fool and is refraining from any interference with the hockey. I have a question for him, “Why did you demote hockey from the list of priority sports’ last year, when you had no power?” Even the die-hard optimist is pretty sure that the administration of the game will not change, unless we heed the advice of CPI member of Parliament, Gurudas Dasgupta, who has said that the only way to save the game is to physically throw out Gill and his honchos from managing the game.

The FIH has issued warning but when asked about the reason behind their concerns they were clueless. There were several concerns, but we will not communicate the exact details was the answer of the FIH communications manager, Arjen Meijer. The decision also questions the intent of FIH. It is not sure whether they are really doing this for well being of the hockey. Just because they have failed to implement a directive of FIH, they will not be allowed to host the world cup. Question is – Whether world cups were allotted on such basis for all other countries too or is it only India that has been given this condition? To the best of my knowledge world cups in all sports are allotted on the criteria of rotation, good ground venues, easy transportation from overseas as well within the host country and proper accommodation for the participants. The FIH is acting as a bully and I have just no idea why is it so? What are the motives behind this? Probably our media can help us out.

The FIH and IHF are sailing in the same boat. Both are determined to bury the Indian hockey.

Indian Hockey can bounce back

I WAS at the Bombay Hockey Association ground in Mumbai to meet a friend of mine who plays hockey at junior level when the news of India’s failure to qualify for the Olympics broke out. The players on the ground were stunned. I talked to my friend in the evening and he detailed me the shortcomings in the set up that were the main reasons behind the decline of Indian hockey. Though I have never played the game at any level but I do have decent knowledge about the game and my views echoed with that of my friend’s.

Indian TeamI personally feel that this is the best thing that could have ever happened to Indian hockey if it is able to awake few of the officials from slumber. It was somewhere this time last year when Indian cricket team was eliminated from the world cup and the angry fans performed the ‘last rites’ of the cricketers. But the elimination made the bunch of individuals come together, regrouped and recouped to win the Twenty20 World Cup and more recently series in Australia. Though it is futile to have comparisons considering the fact that BCCI focuses on the results and well-being of its players but with Indian hockey federation (IHF), it is totally a different story.

KPS GillMany former players and experts believe that it is the time that the top officials in the IHF should be sacked. They have destroyed the game enough and there is nothing more left. The same officials have been heading the IHF for last 15 years and they have failed miserably to create proper system to hone the talent of the players and acknowledge some serious drawbacks in the system. The federation of international hockey (FIH) stepped in as India lurched from disaster to disaster, promoting Indian hockey, but one year into the project, even they admitted that the IHF was just not moving on the problem areas that had been identified.

The worse has happened and it has turned full circle. From here on, it will get better only. We need some serious introspection. To be very honest, nobody is scared of our current hockey team. We played some poor and pathetic hockey against the Great Britain but the main problem does not lie there. The trouble has been brewing for over 20 years now. We need to move on from the ‘glorious past’ to the present where there is no infrastructure at the root level and lack of good coaches enhances the trouble. As Viren Rasquinah says, “Children are not learning the right things and they pick up bad habits in technique — our man-marking skills, over-dribbling, etc. These are mistakes that go unnoticed and ignored at the domestic level, but they will be badly punished at the international level, more so in the crunch matches.”

We have miniscule number of Astroturfs in the country (15 or 20) and you hardly get a chance to play on the Astroturf at initial level. The game that is played on grass and on the turf is totally different and requires different skill sets. Where do our boys hone their basics? The FIH appointed Ric Charlesworth as technical director but the officials have failed to utilise him as well. People like Charlesworth have good understanding of the game and can be very handy to guide the coach at the junior levels. Indian boys have inborn talent to some of the toughest skills in the hockey such as dribbling. But then dribbling is not the only skill. Where we lose out to the Europeans are the other skills — passing the ball on time, not holding on to it, and off the ball running, etc. The game has changed technically as well over the period of time but we are still not willing to bring technology to our assistance. Our research into the technical aspects of the game lags far behind than that of the Europeans. Players and coaches should adopt modern tactics and techniques and the under-14, 16, and 19 level programmes need to be restructured.

The other shortcoming in our system is that we don’t have any national level hockey tournaments barring Premier Hockey League (PHL). The lack of competitive atmosphere makes our hockey more pathetic. It will be good if we can dump the club culture and follow the state culture as done in the cricket that gives more exposure to the players and create more competitive atmosphere and opportunities. The next thing that needs to be improved is the handling of players by the association. So far, we have seen some absurd selections and treatment meted out to some of the top players. Whenever there is a debacle, the players are sacked en masse; coaches are axed and support staff being changed. There is no respect for the players. But this is not the right way. You need to back your players and provide more facilities to improve their game. Was the Indian cricket team changed after the world cup debacle? The selection procedure should be more transparent where the players are selected on the basis of their game and not their ‘jack’ or other identities. In this tournament, we went without some of our top players such as Arjun Halappa, Sandeep Singh, etc. The federation has ruined the players like Gagan Ajit Singh and Deepak Thakur. Continuous sacking and chopping of the players lower their morale and it becomes difficult to bounce back.

The bottom line is that the top brass of the federation should be changed and new regime should take over. The new regime should consist of players and experts who have good knowledge of the modern game. Many of the fans feel that this is the death of the national game. There is no denying that the game is in dire state but all has not been lost yet. I see this loss will scripture the re-emergence of the Indian hockey.

(I have made comparisons with Cricket because many feel that Cricket is detrimental for other sports. The fact is if we win more games and tournaments and show our will to change the system for betterment, there is no shortage of the passion, fan following and money in the country.)

Indian Hockey fails to Qualify for Beijing Olympics

Indian Hockey Team PlayersIndian Hockey stooped to a new low when it failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics to be held later this year. This is the first time in its history of 80 years that the Men’s Hockey team has failed to qualify for the event. Facing a do or die battle against Great Britain in the finals of the qualifiers, India lost 0-2. Barry Middleton (4th minute) and Richard Mantell (10th minute) scored for Britain, who then showed the discipline and character to withstand intense pressure and book the berth to the 2008 Olympics. Eight times gold medalist India, thus failed to make it to the Olympics for the first time, since their debut in 1928, adding an ignominious chapter to the game’s history which has seen more lows than highs in the recent times. The early inroads by the opposition put India on the backfoot and they were unable to settle down. Midfielder Sardara Singh and Prabhjot Singh were given yellow cards adding to their woes. The Indian players also missed many chances of scoring. Indians failed to convert the 5 penalty corners, with neither Ramachandra Raghunath nor Dilip Tirkey being able to score a goal. India did knit together a few moves, but at the finish, it was the same old tale of wrong passes and too much of individual play. The defeat could be a blow to the Indian Hockey and it will be very tough for the game to recover from such disgrace. The defeat has started showing its repercussions with Coach Jaquim Carvalho quitting. The former players have also blasted IHF for India’s failure. The main reason for India’s failure, according to former players, can be attributed to shortage of planning and coach’s insistence of not paying heed to Ric Charlesworth’s inputs. The selectors should also share the blame for not including in-form players Sandeep Singh and Arjun Halappa. The standard of the game has fallen to dismal levels with no proper infrastructure and flow of funds. It is the high time that Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) is overhauled. This defeat can be treated as a lesson to change the course of Indian Hockey. Instead of desperation we need to regroup and make better strategies to improve the condition of our national game. Till date, 11 teams have qualified for the Olympic men’s competition. The one remaining spot will be taken from the winner coming from the last qualifying tournament in Japan. The automatic qualifiers are Australia (Oceania champions), Belgium (European bronze medalists), Canada (Pan American champions), China (hosts), South Korea (Asian Games winners), the Netherlands (European champions), Pakistan (Asian Games bronze medalists), South Africa (African champions) and Spain (European silver medalists).

Heart Warming Story of a Caddie turned Golfer

A rags to riches story that should make every Indian proud. An unassuming Golfer from Kolkatta won the Indian Masters title at the Delhi Golf Club but the Media has been ignorant of it. A great inspiration story buried even before it can be told.

In the first ever European level Tournament in India, it would have been only fitting that an Indian won it. It is interesting to note that SSP Chowrasia had no formal training in Golf. He was a greenskeeper’s son and was self taught. This was the third ever win of a European tournament by an Indian. Arjun Atwal was the first Indian golfer to win the European Tour International schedule at the 2002 Singapore Open Masters.

The 29 year old champion Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia pocketed a handsome amount of $416,660., the highest prize money ever won by any Indian Sportsman. Chowrasia had been playing professional golf since he was 19, but had not won any major international Golf Tournament but with this win he moved up the international golfer’s rankings to 161 and also at the top of the Asian order of merit. Chowrasia always used to fail at the last hurdle that is the finals, but in front of his home crowd he absorbed the pressure to emerge the winners beating fellow greats like Ernie Els, Arjun Atwal and Damien McGrane.

Going in the footsteps of Ali Sher and Feroz Ali who were also caddie turned golfers, SSP Chowrasia now stands as an inspiration to numerous caddies around India who have hopes of playing in an international Golf tournament some day. And Chowrasai too believes that the Caddies have it in them to accomplish the feat, and tries to help the caddies whenever he can.

In October 2006, this man had stood runners up in the Indian Open behind Jyoti Randhawa and had won his biggest cheque of 33,900 dollars. When asked about an international open, the humble down to earth Bengali had said,
”I don’t think I can play in such cold conditions. After all, Bengalis don’t want to move out in winter without their blanket and you can’t swing the club with the rag on” But winning in the cold winter of Delhi, Chowrasia has proved himself wrong.

In a country like India, the Media plays a big role in building a Sport. Golf though a very popular sport world wide has not got the recognition it deserves in India. And chowrasia’s win shows that you do not have to be a millionaire to be able to afford the Golf Clubs. The Media’s bias towards Sports other than cricket is there for all to see. Well, the media persons have a tailor made answer ready that they reflect only what the Society does or indeed in this case wants.

But the Media should understand that it can play the role of a Leader. It can awaken a revolution among the people whether it is injustice done to the poor or the lack of law and order. The Media should focus on Sports like Hockey, Golf and Football. We do not expect an entire Sports channel dedicated to such Sports but at least a fifteen minute piece everyday will not cause any real harm. But, the TV channels would rather play the same cricket clip again and again than playing a clip of a different Sport.

The Print and the Internet Media is equally guilty here. Here is a young Indian who has won an international Masters tournament and is being discussed all over the World but back home in India, people barely know anything about him. And after winning the highest Sports prize money ever by an Indian, he still cannot feature in the Headlines of a news paper or a TV channel.

If in a Sport we aren’t really doing well, I can understand the Media wants to stay away from it. But in spite of winning the Indian Masters, if the Media chooses to ignore Chowrasia then it is due to the Media Bias. What was astonishing to see was on his arrival back to Kolkatta, there were not a large number of Media persons to talk to him. The Reason an IPL meeting was taking place in Kolkatta and all the Media personnel had been stationed there.

The Media needs to wake up and realize that it’s main job is to inform the people and not to entertain them. Otherwise Heart Warming stories like these would be buried even before they can be told.

Happy days are here again for Indian Hockey

Jubiliant Indian Team after winning Asia Cup 2007INDIAN HOCKEY had gone blind. Like a once-beautiful woman choosing to be oblivious to the havoc age had wrought on her, hockey had refused to acknowledge and arrest its decline. It was a free fall into an abyss. That’s Indian hockey for you — governed by a body conducting matters in a manner that could remind you of the Middle Ages. The last year ended with India finishing last in the six-nation Champions Trophy in Chennai and thereby crashing out of the next event in Spain in July. The year also ended with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) President, Els van Breda Vriesman blasting the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) for being the worst national body among the top nations.The IHF has not changed its style of functioning but the Indian hockey players have changed their ways in the last six months or so. First they won a bronze in Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament. India retained the Asia Cup giving South Korea a 7-2 drubbing on Sunday. The decisive manner in which the victory was scored has given the coach Joaquim Carvalho plenty of cause for optimism ahead of next year’s Olympic qualifiers. The win has brought the smiles back to many hockey fans and staunch supporters of the game. The number of people that turned out to watch the finals was also encouraging. The face of Indian Hockey will certainly change with a few more victories like this. The Indian Hockey team looked like a changed unit as well. The fitness level, the energy, the team spirit and the aggression was all there. Carvalho also hailed his players’ fitness and teamwork after the former world power rattled up 57 goals and conceded just five over seven games, beating South Korea twice and edging out surprise Asiad silver medalists China on the way to glory. It is difficult to single out any Indian player for appreciation as each one of them contributed, playing their roles to perfection in India’s win. They were rightly given a standing ovation by the spectators at the overflowing stadium.

The sports ministry, a few months back, withdrew hockey from the list of priority sports. The decision was not a welcome move for our national sport. Hockey has been the most successful sport in India. It is the only sport which has got gold medals for India at the Olympics. Now after a few good performances, the IOA President wants hockey to be back in the priority list. The President, Prime Minister, MPs, etc have congratulated the team on its splendid performance.

The reactions all over the world to the win have confirmed one thing – if India starts winning again in leading tournaments, it will help hockey’s revival in In-dia. Hockey is India’s national game with a very rich legacy. It was going through a lean phase, but from all indications it is on a comeback trail. The revival of hockey, or any sport, can happen only if more people play the game at the grass roots level build the infrastructure to make that possible. Let us have more grounds for our children. Let schools inculcate a sporting culture in students. We will then have better players and better teams.