was not told of Rajinder’s removal
Ajit Pal Singh writes
Ajit Pal Singh captained India to their only World Cup triumph in Kuala Lumpur in 1975. This versatile centre-half had also coached the national team. He now devotes time to groom young talent.
Olympic fever is gripping the world once again. All eyes are now focused on the Olympic Games, which will unfold in Athens on August 13. This sporting spectacle is the most extravagant, the most keenly contested and very prestigious. Representing the country in the Olympics is a unique honour, which gives a special feeling to the chosen ones. Every one involved in the games — athletes, players, coaches, administrators, organisers, media persons and others — function on their toes.
They all have specific roles to play. The athletes must perform to their fullest potential. Coaches polish the skills of the players to make them perform to their optimum potential.
When we talk of Olympics, hockey figures prominently in the Indian context. India had basked under the glory of the hockey gold, brought home by successive teams, in the pre-Independence era. The Olympic hockey gold was there for India’s asking then, and India emerged the champions in the 1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1964 Olympic Games. After the Tokyo Games in 1964, the rot set in, slowly but surely. A silver at Rome (1960) and bronzes at Mexico (1968) and Munich (1972) did no good to salvage the prestige of Indian hockey.
The sun had virtually set on Indian hockey after the depleted 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where, under the captaincy of Vasudevan Bhaskaran, India annexed their last Olympic hockey gold.
We had the strongest team at Mexico, with many a stalwart player figuring in it, but they failed to reach the final due to myriad reasons.
Sometimes, we do things strangely, which can happen only in India. We had two captains at Mexico —Prithipal Singh and Gurbax Singh. And under the weight and contrary commands of two heavyweight captains, our hockey ship was bound to sink, and that’s what precisely happened there.
It remains a mystery as to what were the compulsions for the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) to commit such a blunder, by creating two power centres in the team, which cost the country dearly. Munich ’72 was an episode of missed chances and a case of being so near, yet so far.
India had enjoyed total supremacy in Olympic hockey till 1956, when we scored goals at will, and notched up victories with big margins. Hockey lovers the world over wondered whether Dhyan Chand’s hockey stick had any magnetic power, as the ball was always glued to his stick!
Those were the halcyon days of Indian hockey when the world used to watch our legendary players with amazement, at their prodigious skills and capabilities on the field. It was due to their sheer hard work, dedication and determination that the legendary players of yore could mesmerise the world with their hockey wizardry. I marvel at their talent as they played hockey under adverse conditions, some of them barefoot.
Indian hockey suffered irreversible setback following Partition, as we had to compete with Pakistan, who were once part of us, and played the same kind of hockey as we did.
The partition created two formidable hockey outfits in the world. Pakistan gave us a tough time in 1956 (Melbourne) and defeated us in 1960 at Rome.
This was the first shock to the supremacy of Indian hockey, though it was satisfying on another count, that the Olympic title stayed put in the subcontinent. Pakistan remained the main rivals of India for almost two decades. And during this phase, the other continental sides progressed by leaps and bounds, and began challenging both India and Pakistan.
And the scene changed drastically in the seventies with other Asian and European countries challenging the monopoly of India and Pakistan.
Teams like Australia, Germany and Holland became forces to reckon with. And in 1972 at Munich, Germany became the Olympic champions and the hockey crown went out of our subcontinent, to Europe, never to return till date except for the 1980 Moscow Games, when India were lucky to defeat Spain in the final, despite all other major hockey-playing nations boycotting the games, following America’s military intervention in Afghanistan.
And sometimes miracles do happen. Who could have believed that minnows like New Zealand would become the Olympic champions one day. The eighties and the nineties witnessed the total domination of continental teams like England, Germany, Holland and Australia. India and Pakistan were reduced to mere participating teams, fighting for 5th to 8th positions.
These were the two decades when Indian hockey hit the rough, as never before. The reasons for the downfall were many, like the introduction of the synthetic surface, change in hockey rules, fitness levels of the players, variations in penalty corner conversions, decline in the scoring abilities of our players, poor goalkeeping, poor tactical training, overdribbling, etc.
This decline and fall also brought down the popularity of hockey among the Indian masses. But still, a sizable section of Indians were crazy about the game and felt that hockey being the national game should regain its lost glory. No wonder, there is tremendous interest in the progress of the Indian hockey team, and curiosity about how they would fare in Athens.
The Indian team have been undergoing hectic preparations, including commando training, fitness camps at Bharog (HP) and in the USA under the supervision of Indian and foreign coaches, and tested their strength in the four-nation hockey tournaments in Holland and Germany. But the performance in Holland was very pathetic as India lost the matches heavily, leaving the impression that it was not a hockey result but a tennis score. Every thing seemed not all right with our team. Were they stale and tired? Were the team suffering from technical and tactical flaws or was there groupism in the team?
Hockey lovers had this poser in their minds: was the coaching not up to the mark? The IHF, in its wisdom, decided to do away with two recently appointed coaches — Harender Singh and Mir Ranjan Negi (goalkeeping coach) and brought in Jagbir Singh, another Olympian of yesteryears. So every one knew that it was a matter of time before the axe fell on national coach Rajinder Singh, though no one had expected the axe to fall on him so soon.
An ongoing feud between Rajinder Singh and Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon made it clear that either he remains or the other two, who were very crucial for the composition of the Olympic squad, go out.
It was a “brilliant” idea of the IHF to select the Olympic team during the four-nation tournament in Germany, with 13 selectors present, including two managers, four coaches, one physio, K.P.S. Gill, Jyotikumaran, Aslam Sher Khan, B.P. Govinda, Gurbux Singh and a government observer, M.P. Ganesh, who is also the Executive Director (Team’s Wing) of the Sports Authority of India.
The German tournament was of no consequence, but the selection of the team, and interestingly of coaches, was of immense importance. The composition of the team is out and we all knew that who would all be there in the final 16, but for the surprise omission of Kamalpreet Singh. Kamalpreet has been quite a dependable deep defender and his exclusion is strange, but still, the selection of the team has been more or less on the expected lines.
The biggest shock was something different, though—the unceremonious “sacking” of national coach Rajinder Singh with only three weeks to go for the Olympics, leaving the national side in the hands of Gerhard Rach, the chief coach, with Oliver Kurtz and Jagbir Singh as his assistants. This, I would say, is the most difficult humiliation to digest for any hockey player, leave alone a coach of Rajinder’s calibre.
For, Rajinder had put his heart and soul in shaping the national team, with his tireless efforts during the past two years. He guided the hockey teams to many a memorable victory, which included the Junior World Cup, Asia Cup and the inaugural Afro-Asian Games.
Rajinder did not deserve the kind of humiliation heaped upon him, considering that his track record as a coach was very praiseworthy. I wonder what was the need to take him to Germany and drop him there? This unpleasant task, if at all it had to be implemented, could have been done in India itself, before the team left for the four-nation tournament in Dusseldorf (Germany).
This is not the first time that the IHF, under K.P.S. Gill, has acted in this highhanded manner. Coaches had been hired and fired at the whim of the IHF bosses. There had been instances of coaches being “ditched” mid-stream of a competition. Rajinder has now joined the ranks of the likes of Cedric D. Souza, M.K. Kaushik, Pargat Singh, Zafar Iqbal, and many others who had got the boot, when they least expected it. I think K.P.S. Gill loves disgracing coaches and former Olympians.
Now that a new set of coaches has taken over, we have to wait and see what Mr Rach and party can dish out for our hockey-loving nation. I was in favour of inviting a foreign coach to help us develop our players’ physical fitness, improve tactical acumen, penalty corner conversions, and improvement in goalkeeping. But it has come too late.
Mr Rach and company has got too much at stake because of the short time factor, and one is amazed at the wisdom of Mr KPS Gill to justify such a drastic action so close to the Olympic Games.
In my opinion, if everything goes right, and we manage to finish among the medals, it would be an ideal reward for the Indian hockey fans.
Otherwise, we would be fighting for 5th to 8th positions like in the past. If we strike a medal in hockey at Athens, the decision to bring in a foreign coach would be deemed as the right decision. In any case, now that a foreign coach has been inducted, he should be given longer reign to improve things before we arrive at conclusions.
We have selected the
best available team, though how one wishes that the dynamic
Jugraj Singh was there with his drag flicks and unbounded
energy, which used to act as a catalyst for the other players
also to peg up their level of play. Jugraj’s accident has been
a very big setback for Indian hockey, but we hope Dilip Tirkey,
Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon and others would rise to
the occasion to bring home an Olympic hockey medal after a long,
Randhir Singh is an Asian Games gold medallist in shooting. He represented the country in five Olympic Games. He is a member of the IOC as well as Secretary-General of the Olympic Council of Asia and Secretary-General of the Indian Olympic Association.
I am often asked why India, a country of a billion and more people, is not able to produce Olympic champions like other Asian countries?
after Independence, our priority lay in reconstructing the country. As
a result, not much attention was given to sports, for creating the
infrastructure and other facilities essential for facilitating the
growth of sports.
I know how difficult it is to excel at the Olympic stage and attain world standard, having represented the country in five Olympic Games. A sports person needs institutional support, family support, support of society and of course the will to work hard to scale the pinnacle of glory at the world level. But that kind of system was not in place in India, though things are changing for the better.
After being the reserve for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, I was a regular for the next four editions at Mexico (1968), Munich (1972), Melbourne (1976), Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984). And I know for sure how much sweat and toil had to be shed to become a world champion!
Barring hockey, we have not had much success in other disciplines in the Olympics. And after the Moscow Games, we have been drawing a blank even in hockey. We produced individual brone medal winners in K D Yadav (wrestling), Leadner Paes (tennis) and Karnam Malleswari (weightlifting) at the Olympics. But they were all exceptions rather than the rule.
How our sportspersons will fare in the Athens Olympic Games (August 13 to 29) is the question being asked now. We have some obvious choices in women long jumper Anju Bobby George, the tennis pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, the women weightlifters and of course, the shooters. We can also pin hopes on the boxers and the wrestlers. And of course, there is hockey, despite the recent choppings and changes.
But, to put it truthfully, we do not nurse very high hopes of winning many medals, considering that our athletes have to compete with the very best in the world, from the developed nations, with all the modern training facilities at their beck and call. We still have a long way to catch up with the best in the business. But I am sure that eight years from now, India will be a sporting power to reckon with.
Indian sport has been evolving over a period of time, slowly but surely. Though the Asian Games movement started in India, at the National Stadium, in 1951, we have had to face many ups and downs. Let us face the truth: the standard of sports in India has been very low. But we are improving.
In the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, India won just one gold, in kabaddi. Now, the overall sports standard is improving. The overall third position in the Commonwealth Games at Manchester and the overall seventh position at the Asian Games in Busan (South Korea) in 2002, were very encouraging signs for Indian sports.
With India committed to hold the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, Indian sports is bound to get a shot in the arm. I am confident that eight years from now, India will be one of the sporting super powers. We will be exposed to top class sporting talent when we host the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
We have created a lot of sporting infrastructure across the country, thanks to the Indian Olympic Association’s policy of rotating the National Games and organisation of events like the Afro-Asian Games. Our sportspersons are now better equipped, and well-informed and worldly wise to assert their standing in the pantheon of sporting icons.
The Government of India has given great support to us. And the International Olympic Committee solidarity has been playing a crucial role in improving the sports set-up in the country through its solidarity fund.
The Indian Hockey Federation has been given substantial sums, to the tune of Rs 65 lakh, for the training and preparation of the national team.
The encouraging picture is that children and parents are now becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of sports. There is scope for making sports a full time career, as there is plenty of money to be had. And the success of our sportspersons at the international level will give the added impetus for parents to push their wards into sports.
Parents now put emphasis on studies as investing the future of a child solely on sports is deemed to be too much of a risky proposition. But a favourable wind is sweeping Indian sports now with our sportspersons making impressive marks at the world level.
With India set to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, new sports infrastructure would be created and the existing ones would be given a facelift. India are also sure to bag the bid to host the 2014 Asian Games, to strengthen our claim to emerge as serious contenders for hosting the 2016 Olympic Games.
— As told to M. S. Unnikrishnan
“If you don’t take it, you don’t make it.”-Dr Mario Astaphan, doctor of runner Ben Johnson.
Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo Jo) the world-record holder in the 100 and 200-metres, died at 38. Doping is deemed as the main culprit in her early demise.
Elite athletes always have and always will pursue every competitive advantage — health and law be damned, says an IOC official.
You can’t will yourself into an elite athlete by punishing workouts or training alone, they say. You have to start out way ahead of the rest of the human race. And this could be from blessed genes performance-enhancing drugs or even genetic manipulation. No amount of dedication can turn someone of average physique into a world-class sprinter.
seems to be fairly widespread among our athletes. Cases keep cropping
up regularly, despite our operating a relatively milder regime of dope
The history of drug abuse in sport stretches as far back as the history of sport itself. Greek athletes are known to have used stimulants to improve their performance as early as the third century BC. They gorged on mushrooms, sesame seeds, and dried figs.
Modern athletes, wanting to gain an edge without attracting penalty, may commonly take some 25 pills a day, including minerals, proteins, amino acids and the nutritional supplement creatine.
Since the 1960s sport authorities stand alerted to doping in sports (the word dope derived from the Dutch word dop, an alcoholic beverage consumed by Zulu warriors before battle). 1968 Mexico Olympics were the first to introduce drug tests.
At the international level the IOC set up a medical commission in 1967 to produce a plan to combat drug abuse in sport. A similar medical committee was established by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in 1972. Significant work in this field has also been done by several national sports organisations, particularly the Sports Council of UK.
The latest to be set up in 1999 is the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). And it is steadily gaining acceptance as the ultimate authority on matters of drugs in sports. In combination with the urine-sample collectors, and the approved laboratories, WADA is charged with making sure that the world’s premier athletes are clean. Special care is taken that they have not concealed drug use through employing ‘masking agents’. Diuretics constitute the principal masking agents.
WADA has been entrusted with an immensely complicated task that requires keeping up with the onrushing science, navigating legal hurdles, and testing athletes. A well-nigh hopeless task, more so when many national sports organisations lack the will, if not the ability, to catch and punish cheaters who in turn, do everything in their power to avoid testing.
One primary motivation to cheat is the conviction that everyone else is cheating.
Controlling drug abuse by athletes is proving most challenging.
The first difficulty is about agreeing upon a list of proscribed drugs. The IOC Medical Commission drew up a list of prohibited drugs and procedures in 1986 (has been amended since then from time to time). The list covers stimulants such as amphetamines, and the more common stimulants, including caffeine, and hay fever preparations; narcotics, painkillers, including morphine, codeine; anabolic steroids, which increase muscle bulk; beta blockers, designated to relax muscles; diuretics, used to flush drugs out or to reduce weight quickly in weight-related events; cannabinoids, such as hashish, marijuana; and finally some hormones which can be used to increase tissue growth. The list also covers banned practices such as blood doping and urine substitution.
In general, only those drugs are included for which satisfactory testing methods have been evolved. Recently EPO, meant to speed up the body’s production of red blood cells in anaemics, that enabled athletes to absorb more oxygen, was banned because scientists have developed ways of identifying it through blood and urine testing.
And now the spectre of genetic engineering, a frightening future. What if someone introduces an EPO-producing gene into the arm or leg of an individual that produces EPO at a constant level? It would require an enormous amount of research to be able to tell the difference between that EPO and natural EPO.
In another genetic breakthrough, experiments on laboratory mice have produced monster mice by increasing their levels of IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor that promotes muscle growth. A successful introduction of the Human Growth Hormone can produce some unbeatable athletes. The idea is to introduce such a gene along with a virus (the latter known for their facility in invading the human system). Later when the growth gene is duly lodged, the virus can be eliminated through drugs (destroying the taxi after the passengers has been through).
The usual urine-blood tests won’t show up such a gene. At the minimum, you need a biopsy. Athletes may be unwilling to undergo an invasive muscle biopsy before a competition.
Gene therapy has this advantage over oral drugs. It targets more effectively than drugs and is much harder to detect. But then drugs can be discontinued, while gene therapy is almost irreversible.
The mismatch in resources between anti-doping agencies and the world’s pharmaceutical industry is obvious. The research to counter drug abuse in sport isn’t moving fast enough to keep up with pharmaceutical advances.
Is it scientifically possible to stay ahead of the cheaters? The rogue scientists, the coach-gurus, and the ingenious supporting doctors have been winning for years, and they have ever more tools available to them.
Some recent reports, for example, speak of more and more athletes taking to a substance as elementary as insulin to boost their performance illegally. In bodybuilders, insulin works alongside anabolic steroids to consolidate muscle tissue. Steroids spawn new muscle and insulin prevents it from breaking down. Insulin also bolsters stamina in middle-distance runners by enabling them to load their muscles with glycogen, “fuel” before and between events. And insulin vanishes rapidly from the body with half of it gone in as little as four minutes. Even if it was detected, there’d be no easy way to distinguish it from a person’s own insulin.
On top, comes the cost of conducting the drug tests, at approximately $ 150 per test. Around 50,000 tests are conducted each year throughout the world, And still these aren’t proving sufficient deterrents.
Test laboratories are another problem. Only 15 now stand accredited. A few accredited ones have withdrawn on score of their being too expensive to maintain.
Our Sports Authority lab is still awaiting international accreditation. Only SRL Ranbaxy lab, a private lab, has the requisite IOC certification.
Among the international governing bodies combating drug abuse, the IAAF has been the most prominent. It not only carries tests for its own championships but also aids other athletic organisations, financially and technically, to promote testing.
If money could make the mare go, then the Indian shooters are in for a rare medal harvest in Athens. The Government had liberally loosened the purse strings to give the shooters the best of training facilities, and foreign exposure.
Upward of Rs 6 crore have been spent on the shooters during the past three years—for training, foreign exposure, arms and ammunition—and now it’s up to the shooters to deliver.
But has it been worth investing so much money on the shooters in the pursuit of an Olympic gold? “Why not?” asks the genial Secretary-General of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Baljit Singh Sethi.
He asserts that one good ‘shoot’ by any of the eight Indians, who have made the qualifying mark for Athens, can bring home that elusive yellow metal. Indian shooters had not created much impact at the Olympic stage before the Sydney Games in 2000.
Anjali Ved Bhagwat, the petite air rifle shooter from Mumbai, forced the shooting fraternity to sit up and take note when she qualified for the medal round at Sydney. Though Anjali finished eighth, with an impressive score of 394 out of 400 in the finals of the air rifle event, she had made her mark.
Though she could secure only the 33rd position in the sport rifle three-prone position, scoring 566 out of 600, Anjali had put Indian shooting on a pedestal. Young Abhinav Bindra, who too had fancied his chances of an Olympic medal in air rifle, finished 11th, with a score of 590 out of 600.
The fourth Indian shooter in the fray, Anwer Sultan, scored 108 out of 125 to slip to the 26th slot in trap.
But this time, there are eight shooters in the fray, and it is something to be proud of that the country got eight quota places to become the number two country to secure so many quota berths, behind champions China, who earned 28 quota berths.
Baljit Singh Sethi is not willing to single out any one of the eight Indian shooters — three women and five men — as medal prospects. He asserts that all of them are competent and capable of hitting the bull’s eye at Athens. The shooting officials have reasons to be confident as in the run-up to the Olympics, the Indian shooters have been hitting the target consistently, at coaching camps and in various international competitions.
The shooters who have made the Olympic ‘cut’ are: Suma Shirur and Anjali Ved Bhagwat (both in air rifle), Deepali Deshpande (short rifle three-prone position), Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang (both air rifle), Mansher Singh and Manavjit Singh (both in trap) and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (double trap). The squad will be accompanied by three coaches—national coach Prof Sunny Thomas, Lapidy Stays of Kazakhastan and P.S. Bedi—one armour and manager Baljit Singh Sethi.
The Government has also permitted Abhinav Bindra and Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to take their personal coaches, Heinz Reinkemeier and Russel Mark, respectively, to Athens. Mark is a former world champion from Australia, and under his training, Rathore has made considerable strides to be in the reckoning for an Olympic medal.
Abhinav has been training hard too, and according to national coach Sunny Thomas, he can be among the medals if he shows mental toughness and consistency while shooting the big, crucial points.
Perhaps, the Indian shooters would have been better off, had the Government retained the services of foreign coach Laszlo Suzcak of Hungary. He was credited with bringing up the level in air rifle. But the Government reportedly did not honour the salary commitment made to him, and Laszlo Suzcak opted to look for greener pastures.
The Government had promised him $2500 per month, but paid him only $2000. He would have continued with the Indian team after Sydney had he been given a hike of $1000 more. But a mandarin in the Sports Ministry snubbed him by saying that “we can get a better coach than you for $1500”. That sealed Laszlo’s fate, who chucked up the Indian job to take up as chief coach of the Japanese squad for a monthly salary of $4000.
He has reportedly brought up the standard of Japan in air rifle, in which the country was never very strong, in a short span.
“Had he been with us, the air rifle standard would have gone up. The presence of a foreign coach would have made a lot of difference”, noted a shooting official.
The irony is that India has not been able to find a suitable successor for the Hungarian coach, as no good foreign coach is willing to come to India for the “paltry salary” on offer.
The exit of Laszlo has also tarnished the “reputation” of India among other foreign coaches, as word has spread that India are “poor pay masters”.
Well, be that as it may, India still feel confident about striking it rich in Athens. “I will not be surprised if we hit the gold. There is a very fair chances of us getting a gold in Athens”, avers Sethi.
Anjali Ved Bhagwat is the obvious choice for a medal. Mansher Singh and Manavjit Singh in trap also hold out a lot of promise, if their recent performances have been any indication. Anjali shot a perfect 400 at the trials in Bangalore, though her official best continues to be the 399 out of 400 she shot in the World Cup at Fort Benning (United States) last year.
Suma Shirur had shot 400 out of 400 to create a world record at the Asian Shooting Championship at Kuala Lumpur this year while Deepali Deshpande has a best of 586 out of 600 achieved in the World Cup at Changwon (China) last year. Abhinav Bindra’s best remains the 598 out of 600 he hit at Luxemburg in 2001 while Gagan Narang shot his best of 595 in the World Cup at Athens early this year.
Though Mansher Singh had fired his career-best 123/125 in trap at the Commonwealth Shooting Championship in Delhi in 1995, he has been bettering his scores in recent months. Manavjit Singh trapped his best of 121/125 at the Asian Championship in Kuala Lumpur this year while Rajyavardhan Rathore had produced his best score of 142/150 at the Commonwealth Games in Bisley, 2002. Mansher and Manavjit had shot 144 recently, and have been showing the kind of consistency they had not displayed in the past.
The Indian shooters are now at level with the best in the world, but to go further up by a couple of points is the real challenge, which will decide the winners from the losers at Athens.
“The Government has given the shooters a lot of exposure, without cutting corners. It’s up to the shooters to show the results”, summed up a top shooting gun.
Bollywood superstar of yesteryears Sunil Dutt is no novice as a Union Sports Minister. As one of the most successful Congress parliamentarians, with his impeccable record as Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra, Mr Dutt was given the choice of picking the ministry which he wanted, when the Congress-led UPA government was being formed.
And he chose the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry as not only does he want to improve the image of the Indian sports in the world arena but also wants to do a lot for the youth of the country, on whom, he points out, lies the future of the country.
In an exclusive interview with The Tribune, Mr Dutt while pointing out that the sportsmen of the country need to have a special place, tried to avoid any controversial issue, whether it was of the politicians heading the various sports federations in the country or the doping issue dogging Indian sports.
However, he was forthright in saying that the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) had not taken the Sports Ministry into confidence while taking some crucial decisions including the recent sacking of the chief coach Rajinder Singh.
He said that IHF had not consulted the Sports Ministry while summarily sacking chief coach Rajinder Singh when the Olympic team was selected during a four-nation tournament at Dusseldorf, Germany. Mr Dutt said he came to know of the removal of Rajinder from the media.
But he was not making an issue of it, and preferred to get at the truth, instead of arriving at any hasty conclusions. He also opted to make a “no comment” regarding the hockey team selection in Germany. “Later, Mr Gill (IHF President) spoke to me on the telephone and gave me a verbal message of what happened. The reasons given could be correct, but would make a final judgement after hearing the other side”, he explained.
The Union Sports Minister, however, expects a “good performance” from the Indian sportspersons in Athens. “We don’t guarantee anything”, while not discounting the possibility of the Indians faring badly in the Olympics either. This as the country is planning to field a fairly large contingent, comprising 78 sportspersons and at least three dozen officials.
Mr Dutt admits that “there are expectations” from athletics, archery, hockey, shooting, boxing, tennis weightlifting and wrestling. “We have the feel that some medals would come our way”, he says hopefully, though the ground reality is vastly different.
Though the government has been sparing no effort to provide the best of equipment and training facilities to the sportspersons, including foreign exposure at considerable cost to the exchequer, the federations have not been projecting the correct picture to the Ministry. Nor was it being posted with the progress card of the sportspersons.
He admitted that no federation had so far given a “realistic picture” of India’s medal chances at Athens. In fact, there has been no assessment at all of the preparation of the sportspersons as they have been training in various coaching camps and participating in competitions abroad.
But Mr Dutt has not made an issue of that as “we cannot expect the federations to give any assessment report with the final preparations on the last leg. Anyway there only a few days left for the Olympic Games. Let us wait and watch”.
Mr Dutt said there would be no witch-hunting even if the sportspersons fail to deliver at Athens. “Let the things happen first. Then we will think over what action should be taken”. The Sports Minister has a very positive outlook about the potential of our sportspersons, and if things do not pan out the way the Government and the federations have planned, there will be no blaming game. “We will sit down and analyse the facts, and try and support our sportspersons for the future”, he noted.
The minister is also seized of the treatment meted out to our champion sportspersons. “We must honour our players. They should not be treated as common people. They are like Chief Ministers if they are Olympians, and they should be provided the best facilities so that then can bring laurels to the country”. He said the menace of doping among sportspersons was a “global problem” with the Americans topping the chart.
Mr Dutt was sure that “our players were not so much into it. They are genuinely scared of drug use because they know that if they are caught, they will be deprived of their life’s hard work, which will naturally deprive them of a bright future”.
He said the doping issue was not a matter of much concern abroad, as the future of most sportspersons there was already made.
On the much-debated matter of politicians heading sports federations, Sunil Dutt observed that there was nothing wrong in politicians being at the helm of federations as “as you don’t have to be a sportsman to head a sports federation”.
He cited the example of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmia, who runs the cricket body “so well” without being a cricketer himself. “One has to be good administrator so that he can prepare the sportspersons with an objective in mind. He must love his sportspersons, but that love must be tough”, averred the genial Sports Minister.
V. Bhaskaran was the captain of the Indian hockey team which won the gold medal in the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. That was the last time India won an Olympic hockey gold.
It is nearly 24 years that I have to go back to recall the great moments of achievement of the Indian hockey team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. India played in the final against the formidable Spanish team led by Jouan Amat. The memory is worth recalling because there was plenty of action before the final and as expected, the media was not in favour of India clinching the gold.
Chief coach Balkishan Singh guided the boys with a positive approach and also gave confidence to the team in which 14 teenagers played their maiden final at the Olympic level. With 14 youngsters, the Indian hockey team went on to create history at the Olympics.
The Spanish side had eight Olympians with vast experience. They had also won the European Cup earlier that year, beating the Netherlands and Germany.
On the D-Day, the team met the chief coach to make the final plan for the final. It was left to me as the captain to field the first eleven and also to decide the tactics to handle the Spanish forwards. In the league competition during that Olympics, we had drawn with the Spanish 2-2. It was a good meeting where youngsters like Mervin Fernandez, Mohammad Shahid, Somaiah and Zafar Iqbal came out with suggestions to make a new format for converting penalty corners along with Surinder Sodhi and Devender Singh.
The match started in front of a crowd of 13,000 and the Indian team was ably supported by the Indian contingent, which included former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who was then the Indian Ambassador to Russia. With moral support and mental strength of the team, the first 10 minutes saw Indian forwards Shahid, Sodhi and Zafar Iqbal troubling the Spanish defenders. Due to this hard work and pressure from the mid-field, the Indian team led 2-0 in the first 20 minutes of the first half. Sodhi scored the first goal through a penalty corner variation which stumped the Spanish team. The second goal was scored through combined effort from me, Shahid and Zafar Iqbal, which took the Spanish defence by surprise. Shahid put the ball into the Spanish goal beating the world’s best goalkeeper.
The two goals did give the Indian team advantage and also great confidence. But as it happens to any team which has taken the lead, conceded a goal through a penalty corner and the score became 2-1. Before the end of the first half, we scored again, which made it 3-1.
We started the second half determined not to lose the ball by unforced errors. It was excellent plans of most of the players were at their best. One small error by our deep defender made way for the second goal, again through Juan Amat, who scored to make it 3-2.
The pressure was mounting on the Indian team with just 12 minutes to go for the final whistle. As the Spanish team was playing open hockey, we made use of open spaces and went on the offensive to gain a penalty corner. It was converted by M. K. Kaushik on the rebound and we led 4-2.
However, in the last seven minutes, we conceded another goal. Juan Amat converted a penalty corner to complete a hat-trick, the first one to do so in an Olympic final. The last four minutes definitely belonged to Spain. In dying minutes, India conceded four penalty corners under pressure, of which three hits by Amat were saved by me on the goal line, including the last one which hit my stick and rolled on to the long corner flag. The final whistle was greeted with thundering cheers by many Indian supporters. The youngest-ever Indian team to play in the Olympics had won India its first gold since the 1964 Games.
On behalf of the members of the 1980 Indian team, I wish the Athens-bound hockey team good luck and hope they play consistently in all games to end up on the podium.