Legendary hockey player and chief coach of India’s 1975 World Cup winning team, Balbir Singh Sr, on Wednesday said Hockey India’s felicitation of the squad which brought home the trophy 39 years ago has come too late in the day.
The iconic centre forward, who won gold medals at the 1948 (London), 1952 (Helsinki) and 1956 (Melbourne) Olympics, also said that the deceased players’ families should have been invited by HI, which held a felicitation function at Delhi on Wednesday.
“It is unfortunate. Or rather, it shows that for so many years, there has been no achievement at the Olympic or World Cup level, which is sad,” he told PTI at his residence.
“The honour I got by making the team victorious cannot be expressed in words and definitely, it cannot be measured in any amount of money. Of course, I am happy today that my boys are being honoured and felicitated, but if I was there and among them, it would have made me more happier,” added the 90-year-old.
He said that for him helping India regain their supremacy in the sport was the prime goal and he had been successful in his mission.
On families of deceased players not being invited, he felt the HI should have done it.
“The families of these players should have been honoured and given more financial aid than distributed among the surviving legends.”
Going down memory lane, Balbir recalled the hard time he faced on personal front in 1975 when his father and freedom fighter, Dalip Singh passed away.
Balbir’s father had passed away during the pre-World Cup coaching camp in Punjab University in Chandigarh.
Balbir’s close associate and Vice President of the Chandigarh Hockey Association, S.K. Gupta said the legendary player should have been invited by HI.
“It pained me in the sense that here is an icon, who has brought three gold medals and was captain of the victorious 1956 team, was declared sportsman of the century in 1982 and lit the torch during the Asian Games in Delhi, 1982, but he has been ignored,” he said.
“In 1952, he scored all three goals in semifinals and five out of six goals in finals. We are being very unfair that he is being treated like this. He was not dying for cash rewards, but a simple bouquet of flowers would have been enough to acknowledge the contribution of this legend,” Gupta added.
Balbir recalled being honoured during the London Olympics in 2012.
“Over there everyone kept asking me about the Indian team. In London, I couldn’t find a suitable answer. I said hockey gets step-motherly treatment when compared to cricket and also told them that it is a poor man’s game,” he said.
Pained by the steady decline of Indian hockey over the years, the legend felt that to bring back the golden period, a serious effort has to be made.
“I don’t want to blame any particular person. There has to be a combined effort. The amount they pay to Olympians is also very low. I am not against foreign coaches, they are highly qualified, but I feel there is a gap in communication and problems in bonding with the players.