The real reasons for Hockey India’s decision to withdraw the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams from next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham may be caught in a bit of a haze. But former Olympic gold medallist V. Baskaran believes that Graham Reid, the Indian men’s team’s head coach, had a big say in the matter.
“If you look at it, Reid now calls the tune because he has delivered at the Olympics with a bronze. So, I think Hockey India has decided to go with him,” said Baskaran, the captain of the triumphant Indian hockey team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, in a chat with Sportstar.
The hockey champion of the Asian Games, in Hangzhou (China, September 10-25), will directly qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics and the problem is that the Commonwealth Games (July 28-Aug. 8) happen just a month before that in Birmingham, England.
“I also feel that we have to focus on the Asiadas it is an Olympic qualification event. We lost in the last Asian Games (India won bronze, 2018, Jakarta) and we struggled for one and half years to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. We had to travel a lot and do a lot of things.”
“We can win it this time because Pakistan is not good, Korea is nothing much. If we win the Asian Games, we will have the same core group and can make the boys better for the 2023 World Cup in India. I think Reid is focusing on filling the vacuum left by players like Rupinder Pal Singh, V.S. Sunil and Birendra Lakra who retired recently and on qualifying for Paris.”
But won’t the Commonwealth Games, which includes world’s top 10 teams like Australia, England, New Zealand and Canada, offer a wonderful preparation for the World Cup in Bhubaneswar in early 2023? Can’t we at least send a second string for the Commonwealth Games?
“We have suffered a lot at the Commonwealth Games. Because, there they will give us four continuous games and the competition will be very high. If the development team goes also, it is not going to learn much,” explained Baskaran.
Another issue is that India does not have a proper second string.
“The problem of not having a development team now is because of COVID. There may be players but how will you prepare them. In 2016, our Junior World Cup team was good (India won the title), but the COVID pandemic has taken its toll. For the last two years, there was no talent identification, no Khelo India, no Junior Nationals, no Nationals.”
“And the problem is, who will be sent as the goalkeeper. Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak are seniors (and with the Asiad probables).”
“So, I’ll agree 80 per cent with the decision of not sending a team to the Commonwealth Games.”