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A tragedy of Olympian proportions

S. Thyagarajan

It was collective failure and it’s time to make a critical evaluation

— Photo: AP

SILVER DOESN’T GLITTER: Dilip Tirkey, V.R. Raghunath and Rajpal Singh are a despondent lot on the podium after India finished second best in Santiago

Chennai: This was a tragedy waiting to happen. It unfolded with dramatic poignancy on Sunday at Santiago, where India’s exit from hockey in the coming Olympics was confirmed by the 0-2 defeat against Great Britain.

Anyone who witnessed the match will concede that the Britons were far more inspired, incisive and impeccable in their approach leaving very little for the Indians to do.

Bitter pill

That India will miss the Olympics after 18 successive appearances from 1928 is a bitter pill to digest. The signals of such a possibility were clear for years. Everything was either ignored, or temporarily ironed out, with illogical reasoning.

It is easy to read the impact of this verdict. The blame game will be triggered. What must be stressed is that the failure is collective; from administration to government, from players to coaches, and, of course, the media, whose hunger for negatives for well over a decade contained the poison to demoralise every section.

True, there have been several arguable factors that could either be addressed more pragmatically, or transparently. The choice and frequent change of coaches, constant shuffling of squads, and programming events without adequate recovery time for players from fatigue are among the few.

But as K.P.S. Gill, President, IHF, observed no federation picks a team, or a coach, or even frame events, with an intention to lose. After all, the idea behind every decision is to ensure that it is for the better.

The results shown however have been disturbingly negative, be it the defeat against China in the Asian Games or the failure to win the qualifier. It is astonishing to look back on how a single defeat against China has almost transformed the course of history for Indian hockey. India should have notched up the qualifying spot at Doha at least by finishing as the finalist.

Now that the black chapter is etched in the history for posterity, it is time to make a critical, detailed evaluation of the causes that led to this trauma.

Throwing up the arms in despair and venturing to shift the onus to another party will be futile. They will only enhance the acrimony. An honest appraisal and admission of errors that prompted such a disastrous debacle will help identify the areas of improvement.

Admittedly, the gap between India and the top teams is very, very slim. The records in the last decade will testify this.

India’s plight in the light of the failure to make the grade is a huge embarrassment to the officials and the millions of aficionados across the globe. That such a mood of depression should engulf everyone at a time when there is a widespread euphoria over the show put by our cricketers is pathetic indeed.

A glorious chronicle of history and tradition built by such incomparable stars as Dhyan Chand, K.D. Singh (Babu) and Balbir Singh (sr) stretching eight decades has disintegrated and lies in a shambles.

Who and when will we ever regain a bit of it is buried in the realm of mystery. Santiago should not be allowed to remain as the epitaph for Indian hockey.

The juniors who are shaping well in competitions now must make a vow to see the country back in the Olympics. It is not beyond their ken if the required dedication and determination are exhibited at every step supported by long-term planning.

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