Mumbai: A host of hockey Olympians on Monday alleged that the national camp starting in Bangalore from Tuesday was designed to "sabotage" the ongoing World Series Hockey and urged the Sports Minister to intervene immediately.
In a joint letter to Sports Minister Ajay Maken, the former players, including three-time Olympic gold medallist Balbir Singh Sr, slammed Hockey India for its "blackmailing" tactics in calling the camp barely a week after India won the qualifiers to book a berth for London Olympics.
They urged Maken to intervene and prevent HI from going ahead with the camp, according to 1984 Olympian and Arjuna Awardee Joaquim Carvalho who signed the letter on behalf of all the other former players.
"As former Olympians, it is our duty to raise the issue to you that the Indian Hockey Team players are being subjected to blackmail and held to ransom by an administration that doesn`t care for the players or the sport of hockey. We are gravely concerned our national heroes and our National Sport are being subjected to such travesties," they wrote.
"Hockey India has apparently called for a camp of Indian players merely a week after their Olympic qualifications (which was preceded by over two months of camps!). It is obvious to everyone that the intention of calling the camp is purely to sabotage the ongoing World Series Hockey event and to ensure that our players are not given opportunities to earn a living."
"Hockey India was well aware of the new dates of World Series Hockey (postponed after the Olympic qualifiers to accommodate the Indian team). They however seems to believe anything that suppresses a player`s ability to earn a living and impoverishes our National Sport are positives for them as they can then continue to rule the roost dictatorially."
The former players wondered whether the camp, called so much in advance of the July-August Games in London, would benefit the national team members, and instead, felt playing in WSH, co-founded by Nimbus Sport, would benefit them more.
"As former world-level hockey players, one fails to see the benefit of having a camp 5 months prior to the Olympics. This neither provides betterment for preparations nor does it give the players vital match practice. In fact, the players would be better served if they joined the World Series Hockey in consultation with their coach on their fitness regime.
"The event (WSH) would provide them with ample match practice, preparation of playing in a competitive environment and provide selectors an opportunity to judge the players on their performance as well as look at some additional talent that is showcased."
They pointed out that other top hockey playing countries have not called for such camps and, instead, are allowing their players to take part in local leagues to raise their fitness levels and gain match practice.
"No top level hockey playing country anywhere in the world, including the likes of Netherlands, Germany, Australia or even England, is organising a camp of such sort. "In fact most of the top level players from these countries are actually participating in local leagues throughout the month of March and April in improving their match practice, abilities and fitness."
"The outrageous behaviour of sports federations in treating the sport of Hockey as their own private fiefdom and treating Hockey Players as slaves (all in the name of our Nation) must stop! As former national hockey players and Olympians, we speak from the experience of representing our country with honour and from the pride in our National Sport.
"World Series Hockey has been a boon to Indian Hockey, our players and our fans. Events which are good for our National Sport must not be compromised because of the vested actions of an individual who has absolutely no National hockey background," the former players said.
"We urge you to intervene to ensure that this callous behaviour of Hockey India is stopped immediately, and that our National Sport and our National Heroes are protected and given a chance to thrive," the letter concluded.
The former players, on whose behalf Carvalho has written, are Balbir Balbir Singh Sr, V Baskaran, Zafar Iqbal, Merwyn Fernandis, Gurbax Singh Grewal, Baldev Singh, M P Singh, Balbir Singh Grewal, Jude Felix, Vineet Kumar, S S Sodhi, Aloysius Edwards, Iqbaljit Singh, Kulwant Arora, Ashish Ballal, Gavin Ferreira, Darryl D`Souza, Gundeep Kumar, Rajinder Singh, Charles Cornelius, Viren Rasquinha, Romeo James, Ramesh Pillay, C Poonacha, Shanmugam and ex-India coach Harendra Singh.