Chennai: Epitaph writers are having a field day. Their ire is against the hockey administration, selectors, coaches and the system. The demand is for a regime change.
Joining the chorus after India failed to make the semifinal at Doha was Els van Breda Vriesmann. The FIH chief had some harsh words aimed at an administration that she believed was unprofessional and insensitive to criticism.
Admittedly, the scenario is grim, and missing the Beijing Olympics is a possibility. But this is not an unfamiliar scene. After the last rank at the 1986 World Cup misgivings surfaced over India playing in the 1988 Olympiad at Seoul.
Pakistan, as the 1984 champion, and Korea, as the host and Asiad champion, were automatic entries. After a long suspense, the FIH conceded the continental seat.
Thereafter, the route to the World Cup and Olympics was through qualifiers, save for a couple of times Sydney 2000 and Monchengladbach 2006. India regularly figured in qualifiers at New Jersey, Auckland, Poznan, Barcelona, Edinburgh and Madrid.
Touch and go
It was touch and go at Auckland in 1991, when Pargat Singh and his team reduced coach Balkishen Singh to tears struggling to beat Switzerland and losing to Malaysia. They were lucky when the door opened after Malaysia beat Belgium.
Cedric D'Souza and Rajinder Singh Sr. can narrate better their agony at Edinburgh and Madrid.
All these do not justify the embarrassment India is facing. The imperfections, on which an avalanche of words have been written and spoken in recent weeks, are there for all to see. They have persisted for decades. Chiefly, they relate to coaching and selection. Nowhere is the change of coaches as frequent. So is the illogical sequence of shuffling a combination whenever the result is unfavourable.
Such steps have caused enormous damage. It is not easy to build an international player unless he is fielded at least for two years. Now no player is allowed to blossom. Otherwise, a nation that has abundance of junior talent, capable of winning the World Cup, will not look pathetic at the senior-level.
The present IHF is guilty of two wrongs: of dismantling the combination in 1998, and tampering with the 2003 squad that did well in the Champions Trophy. True, the tragic accident for Jugraj was a great blow as was Sandeep's bullet injury before the World Cup. Sandeep's absence had a definite impact.
As a challenging year emerges, the IHF must be held accountable to the tsunami of criticism. The selection policy ought to be more coherent, and realistic, avoiding regional bias. A change in the composition is due. Induction of those who understand the nuances of astro-turf is necessary. The necessity of having the President and Secretary as part of the committee should be re-examined. The Secretary can be a convenor not a selector.
Long duration camps have proved to be the bane. They only hurt the players. Instead, a zonal competition featuring six teams involving every region will serve the cause better. Equally important is planning the calendar for international tournaments. Players' interest should be paramount.
India has a little over a year to prepare for the qualifiers. How well the IHF utilises it to silence critics remains to be seen.