New Delhi: Mired in controversies since its very inception, the multi-crore World Series Hockey was on Monday postponed until after the Olympic Qualifiers to be held here in February next year to facilitate the participation of India's top players.
The multi-crore event, a joint initiative of Nimbus and the de-recognised Indian Hockey Federation, was to start on December 17 here but with several Indian players pulling out to join the national camp in Bangalore for the Olympic Qualifiers, the Rs 100-crore event has been pushed to February 29.
The opening ceremony and inaugural match of WSH will now take place on February 29 and the final of the event will be held on April 1, 2012, the organisers said in a statement.
The Olympic qualifiers are scheduled from February 16 to February 25 here.
"We have postponed the tournament and it will start after the Olympic qualifiers, under the same format. We did not want to put the national players who have signed contracts with us but later withdrawn into any trouble. I want them to play in the Olympic qualifiers and I will be happy if India qualifies for London Olympics," said IHF President R K Shetty.
"We have been able to convince Nimbus to postpone the tournament though it was a very difficult decision for them.
They have incurred huge losses. They have slotted prime time for the telecast of the matches on their Neo Channel and they have spent huge amount on other logistics.
"We also had to convince the franchises about the postponement. Some franchises including Chennai Cheetas were to start training from today. Now they have to cancel it for a later date. So it was a difficult thing to convince the franchises and Nimbus to the decision. But we do not want to put any problem to the national players. That was the only reason," Shetty explained.
The inaugural edition of the tournament got caught in the cross-fire between the two rival bodies, Hockey India and IHF, with the International Hockey Federation warning the players not to participate in the FIH-unsanctioned event.
The FIH had backed HI, stating that players joining the league would be suspended from international matches.
As a result, 12 top Indian players pulled out of in favour of the national camp which began yesterday.
The likes of skipper Bharat Chettri, Tushar Khandekar, Yuvraj Walmiki, Sreejesh, Sandeep Singh and Sardar Singh were among those who decided to skip WSH.
The first signs of national players not taking part came to light when six of them wrote a signed letter to HI stating that they will take part in the camp. The next day six more sent across a similar letter to HI.
The IHF, in turn, accused the HI of trying to sabotage the league and bullying the players into submission.
"We are extremely saddened by the intimidation tactics employed by Hockey India to try and deprive Indian hockey players of an opportunity to earn a living from the sport of hockey," said Shetty.
"As everyone is well aware, the original schedule for WSH was made on the basis that the national preparatory camp for the Olympic qualifiers was to start on January 24. This date was communicated by HI officials in writing to players as far back as March this year. Unfortunately, HI chose to reschedule the camp to December 11 with the obvious intention of disturbing the players and their preparations for WSH.
"The intimidation tactics being used by HI are shameful and it's a pity that our players had to be put through this. With the express intent of protecting our national players from further harassment from HI, the IHF has requested WSH to take the high ground and adjust the dates for WSH. We are pleased to confirm that WSH has accepted the request," added Shetty.
Yannick Colaco, COO, Nimbus Sport said, "Post the request from IHF (on behalf of the players) we have had detailed consultation with our sponsors, franchises, team officials, match officials and other administers of the sport of hockey.
"We are pleased to confirm the unanimous support of all our stakeholders to the adjustment of WSH dates and we look forward to the launch of this historic event on February 29," said Colaco in a statement.
Indian ace Arjun Halappa said, "I am committed to participate in the inaugural event and extremely grateful to the organisers for shifting the date after the Olympic Qualifiers."
Another Indian player Tushar Khandker said that they were always committed to participate in WSH and the change in date ensures that there is no clash with our national duty.
The WSH is to feature eight teams and will be played across nine venues in the country on a home and away basis.
Not just India, the WSH was also being opposed by the national federation of Pakistan but some of the players decided to participate in it nonetheless.