New Delhi:It must surely rank as the saddest day in Indian hockey, maybe even for Indian sport. For years we have clung to the hope that hockey will one day bring us the Olympic gold as it once did for decades at a stretch. Reaching a situation where we needed to qualify to play in the Olympics was painful enough; now we have a situation where we will not even be playing at the Beijing Olympics. That was really unthinkable. Now it is true.
Frankly, even though all of us - in certain sections of the hockey community - knew that it would be tough to face the predicament of needing to win a tournament to make the berth, I still felt we would scrape through despite all the pressure. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
I can assure you, it is not just Indian fans, but all over the hockey world people will be sad. World hockey needs India, which is why the international hockey body has been so keen to help us.
But now with a result like this, the existing sponsors may shy away, unless they are given a long-term plan and an assurance that something serious is being done. Hockey anyway was finding it tough to attract sponsors. Now it is going to be become even more difficult.
Hopefully, we can still retrieve the situation by thinking afresh.
While it is easy to blame the players saying they did not perform, players alone cannot be held responsible. At some level, the officialdom, and I mean the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), needs to take the responsibility.
The same officials have been at the helm for years, and we only have seen the game go down steadily.
Surely, we have the pool of talent at junior levels, but somehow by the time they reach the senior level, motivation levels drop. Plus the players - I have myself seen it and spoken to them - are made to feel insecure.
Remember most players do not shirk, because hockey is their livelihood. The players know they have been employed for their play. And playing for the country is the highest honour, it also gets them incentives. So they all realise that performing on the field is most important. But they can do this only when they are made to feel secure.
Cutting and chopping has been our officials' policy. They hold all the power and the players dare not stand up to them even to demand what is rightfully theirs. I have known players being yelled at for asking simple facilities at national camps.
In the past we have had players play an entire tournament with just two sets of shirts and shorts. Tell me, how will a player be able to give his best, when he is not even made to feel proud of the shirt he wears.
Incentives, if any, are so meagre that they are embarrassment. More so in an age when we see cricketers, golfers, tennis players, shooters and so many other make a very good living.
The players are then belittled and humiliated in public by people who have never held a hockey stick. That is no way to treat players in your national sport.
Yes, for the next few weeks, the media and the public will rave and rant and ask for explanations. But tell me, who will give them? The IHF is maintaining silence.
Upset as I am, I am still hopeful. There is still lot of talent at sub junior level. I see them in tournaments in Punjab and these kids are still very enthusiastic. But the powers that be need to wake up and have tournaments at the grass-roots level. We will need 8-10 years to re-build.
We need to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. But for that we must infuse new blood. Not just in the team, but all around, including in the federation.
(Pargat Singh is three-time Olympian and former captain who played for India in more than 300 international matches and writes for IANS.)