Dhanraj Pillay feels that the omission of Arjun Halappa from the probables list will hamper India's chances at the London Olympics
“It's purely India's loss,” says hockey icon Dhanraj Pillay, commenting on Arjun Halappa's omission from India's 48-member probables list for the London Olympics. “If the Indian think-tank can drop somebody like Halappa from the Olympics team, I'm forced to believe that we have an abundance of talent in the country, but sadly in today's context there is no one pushing the other for a berth. Some of them may not even join the camp but still will figure in the team because there is a paucity of skilful players now,” feels the legend.
Arjun Halappa and Dhanraj Pillay form the pillar of Karnataka Lions in the forthcoming Bridgestone World Series Hockey (WSH), which has run into one controversy after another since it was conceived last year. Besides Hockey India's and the Indian Hockey Federation's tussle for supremacy there were bans on players for leaving the Bangalore camp without permission. Five players – Sandeep Singh,Sardara Singh, Adrian D' Souza, Arjun Halappa and Prabhjot Singh – were banned for attending the WSH launch function in Mumbai. There was also the postponement from the scheduled start on December 17 last year.
All this posed a threat to the event. Even today, the federation's ruling that the event is not a recognised one and sanctioning the players for turning up has hit this Nimbus-promoted league, which has had hockey players from the world over seek a berth. With eight teams in the fray — Bhopal Badshahs, Chandigarh Comets, Chennai Cheetahs, Delhi Wizards, Mumbai Marines, Pune Strykers, Sher-E-Punjab and home side Karnataka Lions — it could be anybody's series.
“The player distribution was good with each team well balanced,” feels Olympian and coach of Karnataka Lions Jude Felix. “Even now there are no runaway winners. It will depend on the day's play and the strategies employed to best the other.”
When queried about the some players stance of preferring to play for the country at the Olympics, Jude says: “Did the players concerned not know about it when they signed the contract? Should one understand that now money is not a criterion for them after qualifying for the Olympics? What would have been the scenario if the team had not qualified?”
Pillay says: “In the last six months under Michael Nobbs of Australia, our team is doing well. We fared well in the last five tournament and the Olympic qualifying win over France was emphatic. The emergence of Sandeep Singh, who scored about 16 goals in the qualifiers, augurs well. Even a top-six finish at the quadrennial Games is possible. But then there are about five more months to go and certain deficiencies have to be ironed out. And more importantly we need to ensure there are no injuries. Our defence needs to be bolstered as even teams like Canada hit back during the last minutes. There is lots of time left to polish up and hopefully we can address the problems and put up a great show.”
About the controversy regarding Dow Chemicals as the sponsors for the London Olympics, Dhanraj says, “I did speak on this subject earlier too. What happened to the Bhopal victims is sad, but then if they are settling the financial promises and soothing the wounds of the victims so be it. The toil of sportspersons over the years too, cannot be dashed with one boycott call. Sportspersons cannot be made victims now...and they should be given the opportunity to perform at the highest stage.”
Halappa too is categoric. “I don't know if my involvement with WSH has cost me a place in the Indian team or it is my fitness as the team think-tank claims. I was always vocal about my interest in playing the WSH and I continue saying the same. Nobody is complaining about being focussed about donning India colours at the Olympics. It's a matter of pride for every individual. But then these very same players had committed to this Series and now they are jeopardising the event itself. No matter what, the Series will go on and we will strive to make it the success it needs to be.”
With Sandeep and Ignace Tirkey likely to be missing from the line-up, the Pakistani duo of Zeeshan Ashraf and Adnan Maqsood and Eli Matheson of Australia should all lend the needed thrust to the team and make it a force to reckon with.