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Hockey in shame, up to its Gill

New Delhi, March 10: Indian hockey has been chucked out of the Olympics before the country could say Chak De! India.

A smarter Britain slammed the Beijing door shut on the eight-time gold medallists, who failed to qualify for the first time since they debuted on the Olympic stage 80 years ago.

The hour of darkness descended last night in Santiago, Chile, as two quick strikes completed what past players said was the result of years of “collective sin”.

“It felt like there was a death in the family,” said Ashok Kumar, a member of the 1975 World Cup-winning side.

“The Indian Hockey Federation, the sports ministry and the players are all to blame. The standard of our game has fallen to a dismal level. The administration will have to change for things to improve.”

The last Olympic gold in hockey came in Moscow, in 1980, and the lone World Cup triumph was in 1975. Last year, however, India thrashed South Korea 7-2 to win the Asia Cup.

“It’s the result of collective sin,” said Kumar, son of hockey legend Dhyan Chand.

Chief coach Joaquim Carvalho announced his resignation along with two assistants. So did Narendra Batra, one of the eight vice-presidents in the IHF, which also has two senior vice-presidents and 13 executive committee members — more than the 11 players that make a team.

Batra blamed federation chief K.P.S. Gill and Carvalho for India’s exit, hard to accept for a country that once had a run of six straight golds between 1928 and 1956.

Unconfirmed reports said IHF secretary K. Jyothikumaran, who leads the anti-Gill faction in the federation, is also planning to quit.

Gill brushed aside demands for his resignation. “We do not have an instant coffee machine that you can get results instantly,” said the former top cop, who has been associated with the federation for almost a decade-and-a-half.

Insiders recalled how everyone took India’s qualification for granted after last year’s Asia Cup win. They said Tayeeb Ikram, an expert, had sounded a warning, saying India needed to play against teams with different styles and a tougher approach. But no one took him seriously.

Others recounted how some federation bosses humiliated Australian great Rick Charlesworth, who was in India on an assignment for the game’s world body FIH. During the Premier Hockey League, the legendary Aussie travelled to Chandigarh in a general compartment to watch some matches, they added.

“His input would have made the team qualify,” said V. Bhaskaran, who was captain of the 1980 team to Moscow.

Some former Olympians blamed Carvalho for choosing to play only against teams like Western Australia and China before leaving for Chile, and selecting a relatively inexperienced side.

Hardeep Grewal, a former Olympian, said European teams knew “modern technique” and were “well-acquainted with the new rules. In India, we are still playing on grass.”

A more balanced criticism came from former star Mohammad Shahid. “There was a time when we excelled on grass. Then astro-turf came and changed the face of the game. But we can’t now hide behind change of rules or change of playing surface. The fact is, they played better than us. We were only chasing their shadows most of the time.”

As angry fans clamoured for government intervention, sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said he couldn’t interfere in the functioning of an “autonomous” body like the IHF. “We don’t appoint a federation president so we cannot remove him as well. We just watch and suffer,” he said.

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