The world’s best teams have descended upon Bhubaneswar to fight for the bragging rights of being the best in the game. But hockey is not the only thing on their mind. Some of the teams have travelled with “food inspectors”, chefs, nutritionists and medical officers to ensure their players remain healthy during the 18-day World Cup campaign that started Wednesday.
Tournament favourites and Olympic bronze medallists Germany, and European heavyweights England have taken maximum precautions. While the German players had to take special medication before departing for Bhubaneswar, England have set up a kitchen for themselves in their hotel restaurant to maintain “proper hygiene standards”.
Germany and England were among the worst affected teams during the World League Finals in Bhubaneswar last year, when a “mystery illness” derailed their campaign. Seven Germans and three Englishmen were either down with fever or stomach bug, which ruled them out of the business end of the tournament, which was seen as a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup that got underway at the Kalinga Stadium Wednesday.
Germany, in fact, played the bronze medal match against India last year without any substitutes and their goalkeeper Mark Appel was forced to start as a centre forward to ensure they had 11 players on field to start the match. To make sure such a scenario does not arise again, team manager Eric Langner said they have brought a nutritionist who constantly monitors the hotel kitchen.
“Every time when we are in India, we try to do our best. But it’s not always easy. This time, we have a doctor, physiotherapist and nutritionist with us because we do not know what exactly went wrong the last time. We spoke to the hotel guys, but we can’t say it was them… we are trying to take care of every little part. So our nutrition specialist checks the kitchen and interacts with the staff there daily,” Langner said.
Germany captain Florian Fuchs said the result of the World League Finals could have been different if they wouldn’t have been hit by illness. Germany lost to India in the bronze medal match 1-0, a result that won them several fans in Bhubaneswar for the valiant fight they put up despite having an under-strength team.
Fuchs said each of them took extra medication this time before leaving for the World Cup. “We are taking proper care with our hygiene. Before coming here, we took extra medication to boost our immunity. Last year, we took similar precautions but it did not work. So this time we are being extra cautious,” Fuchs said. “These are factors we cannot predict. If the players would not have been sick (last year), then we would have a different result.”
England have gone a step ahead and flown down a chef, who cooks every meal at a special kitchen set up inside their team hotel — an arrangement that hasn’t gone down too well with the security, according to England manager Adam Halliday. “He is kind of an expert in nutrition so he oversees what the players consume. We have decided to have a kitchen for ourselves so we have set up a restaurant for the players who will only eat from there. Morning, noon and night. This arrangement hasn’t pleased the police because they are having to come with us to all our meals,” Halliday said.
While these two teams are expected to go deep into the tournament, minnows France — whose target is to qualify for the knockout rounds — have been cautious, too. They have a medical expert, Dr Christophe Popineau, travelling with them and, among other things, he has advised the players to peel every fruit they eat themselves. “We oversee what’s been cooked by the chef and how well it’s been cooked. I only tell the staff what the players need for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The players are asked to peel every fruit they eat. We are taking every possible precaution as far as hygiene is concerned,” he said.
The Netherlands were initially considering the option of renting two big apartments instead of staying at designated team hotels but were advised against it because of security issues. While they haven’t brought additional support staff with them, a team official said they have been constantly monitoring the situation at the hotel.