Updated: September 26, 2015 3:46:15 pm
There have always been whispers in Indian hockey circles about a Punjab clique and how it divided the team in factions, both on and off the field.
Those allegations now figure in official reports submitted to Hockey India following India’s disastrous performances at the London Olympics in 2012 and the World League semifinals this year.
The reports submitted by former coach Michael Nobbs, his support staff and two unnamed senior players were used as evidence by Hockey India in the probe that banned defender Gurbaj Singh for nine months in August for indiscipline and creating rift.
The reports, examined by The Indian Express, say that the main reason for India’s worst-ever performance at an Olympics, when they ended last in London, was their failure to play as a team.
Nobbs and then physio David John stated in their reports that “a group of players (Punjab) were more focused on themselves than the team” and added that Gurbaj along with India discards Rajpal Singh and Sarvanjit Singh were the “ringleaders”.
When contacted, Nobbs confirmed the authenticity of the report but did not wish to comment on it further. “I have said this earlier as well that there are players in the team who play not for the country but just to get the tag of being an Olympian. Having said that, the current group of young players is immensely talented and we hope they’ll play to their potential next year,” Nobbs told The Indian Express.
There are even suggestions in the reports that there were plans to injure a player so that Sarvanjit, who was a standby in the Olympic squad, could be a part of the main team.
“…Sarvanjit who came to David the Doctor and I individually and said we are going to have an injury and Manpreet (Singh) is going to cut his hand so that he (Sarvanjit) could play. This is a violation of the Olympic Code of Ethics,” Nobbs wrote in his report to Hockey India.
John added in his report that Manpreet, one of the key members of the current team, was distracted and “struggling with concentration”.
Nobbs, meanwhile, added: “Gurbaj, Sarvanjit were the ringleaders and had started to influence Manpreet’s and Dharamvir’s performance… The influence Gurbaj and Sarvanjit clearly has had an affect on Manpreet.”
Interestingly, Manpreet was not the only player who was approached by Sarvanjit. In an unnamed testimony, a certain ‘Athlete B’ said that forward Gurwinder Singh Chandi too was a target.
The unnamed athlete said: “I read newspaper reports regarding groupism in the team but it is totally wrong… Our team was like a family on and off the field. (But) Some days ago, I got news that Sarvanjit Singh told Gurwinder Chandi to injure his finger so that he will get chance to play at the Olympics. It is not good for the team.”
Another player, ‘Athlete A’, said in his report that a group of players — including Gurbaj, Chandi and Sarvanjit — would laugh at others after India lost matches. “The four of them became a group of their own and were very negative in their remarks after each match. They would laugh at us (after) losing, as if they were not a part of the team,” the player wrote.
The player also mentioned that excessive praise showered on current captain Sardar Singh did not go well with a few players and “there were mumbles heard”.
Taking strict action against the players, Hockey India had suspended Gurbaj for more than a year following the London Olympics and sidelined Sarvanjit.
The 27-year-old right-half, regarded as one of the best players in his position, returned to the side last year after tendering a written apology but finds himself in the dock again.
Jude Felix, who recently resigned as the national team’s assistant coach, echoed Nobbs and John’s sentiments.
In his report to Hockey India after the World League semifinals, which ended in July, Felix once again blamed Gurbaj for creating rifts within the team and accused him of groupism.
The federation consequently suspended him for nine months, virtually ending the right-half’s Rio Olympics ambitions next year.
Hockey India president Narinder Batra insisted the current team is not a divided house. “Everything that happened at the London Olympics is documented with me. I could have made it public back then but I do not divulge internal team information as these are our internal issues. People criticized me, the federation and coaches but it’s okay. But after London Olympics till date, we have not allowed it to happen. If we get a feeling that something’s wrong, we check it immediately. In the last three years, the team has been playing as one,” Batra said.
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