India's Olympic preparations hit no man's land

CHENNAI, JULY 20. It is quite likely that India may end up without an international match before taking the field against Argentina in the opening hockey match in the Olympic Games at Sydney. Efforts by the Indian Hockey Federation to giving the probables, now training in Bangalore, a few matches before departure are not bearing fruit.

The proposed five-match series against Egypt at Bangalore from July 27 is off. The Egypt Hockey Federation has expressed itself against accepting the invitation in view of the restrictions imposed by the Government to financing the team for a trip to India this time. An urgent message has now been sent to Russia exploring the feasibility of programming a few matches before the departure. Sources in the IHF feel that it will be too much to expect Russia to respond and accept the request at such a short notice.

The IHF cannot be blamed for want of effort. For months, proposal after proposal was discussed to inviting a team or two to engage the national team. When it became clear that South Africa would not be there at Sydney in the light of the absurd decision of the National Olympic Committee of South Africa (NOCSA) to keep away the men's hockey squad out of the Olympics, the IHF approached it for a tour. But the South African Hockey Federation, upset by the NOCSA's treatment, began planning to take up the matter with an international court. Quite a few senior players, demoralised by the turn of events - which prohibited them from taking part in the Olympics despite qualifying for it as required by the FIH - contemplated of quitting the game.

With South Africa not exactly enthusiastic to the proposal, Egypt, another African country, which is making rapid progress in the sport, was brought into the agenda. But at the moment, there are definite indications that the tour is off. Inviting Malaysia, one of the qualifiers for Olympics in a dramatic fashion at Osaka in March, was also discussed but there was no effective follow up work. In fact, the Malaysian coach, Stevan van Huizen, was sceptical whether the IHF was serious on a tour by the men's team or the junior team.

The IHF is now reconciled to putting the team through a series of practice games against the juniors trained by C.R. Kumar, also in Bangalore. The whole effort is diverted to getting an early clearance to the team for training in Brisbane from the third week of August and moving it to the Olympic Village at Sydney a week before. Everyone agrees the training facilities in the quiet town of Muruvillambha, near the Gold Coast, are unmatched. The IHF believes that India's success in the twin four-nation tournament at Perth last April was clearly as a result of training there without any distraction.

Perplexing `coaching policy'

What is inscrutable as this point of time is the policy towards coaching. The way the list being enlarged gives one the impression that at one point, each player in the 16 will have a personal coach. The triumph at Perth finally convinced the top brass the efficacy of coaching by Vasudevan Baskaran assisted by Harendra Singh. It also effectively drowned the discussions on the recall of Cedric D'Souza, through there were moves to associate him with the team's preparations.

The name of the Dutchman, Nederloff, has cropped up again after the debate on the subject when questions about his credentials to take up the national duty came to the fore last year. Some of the European coaches contacted expressed no knowledge of this individual. Probably, on the prompting of Mr. Theo Ykema, Chairman, Development Committee, the matter was revived in the hope that the Indian Olympic Association would foot his bill for a short-term stint. Nederloff is associated with the Dutch Junior programme and has FIH Master's Certificate.

While the IOA is exploring the possibility of funding Nederloff by IOC Coaching Programme, the Government is also said to be examining the request. Whether a decision will come in time is the question now.

Also floating are the names of Ranjit Singh, an Indian settled in Spain, and the former Olympian, Gurubux Singh. But as yet nothing has firmed up in this regard apart from causing needless confusion and contradictions. It is difficult to refrain from recalling the saying, too many cooks.... But suffice it to say that tinkering with coaching and coaches at this time will be a prescription for disaster.

Meanwhile, the confusion arising out of the proposed merger of men and women federations needs to be sorted out in the quickest possible time to minimise friction and dislocation. Merger is a Hobson's choice, without which India cannot remain in the FIH. So, the governing element in achieving a merger should be a filament of pragmatism and objectivity. There is agreement in principle over merger but the modalities are likely to be acrimonious and protracting, though it has to be effected before the FIH Congress in November.

Unpublished talks have already been held between the representatives of IHF and IWHF in New Delhi recently during which certain proposals regarding the nomination of office- bearers were exchanged and discussed. There was even a move to rope in the Vice-President of the Asian Hockey Federation, Ms. Annabel Ess, as an observer to formalise the merger. Ms. Ess of Singapore, now a resident here, - she will be the Tournament Director for the women's competition at Sydney - is believed to have felt that her presence at this juncture would be unnecessary, but she has agreed to help, if need be, at a later stage.

Needless to say, the priority at this moment is to give the best possible attention to the players and their comfort. The rest can wait to be taken up after the Olympics.