New Delhi:Former Indian hockey Olympians dubbed Monday the saddest day after the country failed to make it to the Olympics for the first time in 80 years and sought a thorough overhaul of the way the game is run.
Aghast over India's rout in the Olympic qualifiers, ex-players across the country also sought a change of guard in the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and also held coach Joaquim Carvalho responsible for the disaster.
The angry reactions came after Britain beat India 2-0 in the final of the Olympic qualifiers in Chile, throwing out the eight-time Olympic champions from the mega event for the first time since 1928.
"This is the saddest day in Indian hockey and maybe in Indian sport," rued former captain and three-time Olympian Pargat Singh. It is a collective failure. More than the players, the administration must own up the failure."
Echoing him, Gurbux Singh, a member of the 1964 gold-medal winning team, told IANS in Kolkata: "This is the saddest day for Indian hockey. I still can't believe that India will not play in the Olympics."
But he quickly added: "This is not the time for desperation. It is time to regroup."
Adrian D'Souza, the Indian goalkeeper at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said: "This is really disappointing. The game has changed over the years. Compared to other countries, we don't have proper infrastructure or funding. It's going to take a long time for players to get over this defeat."
Added another Olympian Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand, the wizard of hockey: "The IHF, the sports ministry and players are all to be blamed for the loss.
"The standard of our game has fallen to dismal levels. The administration will have to change for things to improve."
Gurbux Singh pointedly held Carvalho responsible for the humiliation.
"There were two fatal errors. One was Carvalho's insistence of not allowing technical adviser Ric Charlesworth to get involved in the planning and composition of the team and of not allowing him to travel to Australia and Chile.
"The second was the omission of some senior players like Sandeep Singh and Arjun Halappa who are in fine form," said the head coach of the 1976 Indian team that finished seventh in the Olympics.
Jagbir Singh, who played for India at the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics, said the country did not prepare well for the qualifiers and the writing was on the wall.
"This was coming. We are past being hockey champions and we should realize that now. The governance of the game is to be blamed. We did not prepare well. We did not play enough tournaments before the qualifiers. The effect could be seen on the field.
"We played stereotype hockey. There was no planning. The body language of the players was dismal. They were frustrated and invited yellow cards. These turned into nightmare," he said.
Viren Rasquinha, who represented India till recently, said the team lacked a strategy.
"There was lack of composure and discipline in the final. The strategy was poor. Luckily we did not concede many goals. We could have easily lost by six goals."