Gurbaj Singh has been in the wilderness for close to a year and with the Rio Olympics just three months away, the odds are heavily stacked against him as far as playing in the marquee event is concerned. The country’s best right-half led from the front admirably for Punjab in the recent senior nationals, shepherding them to a runners-up finish after their side lost the final to Railways in a nerve-jangling shootout. The Punjab Police DSP talks about his Olympic preparations and how much he misses his Indian team-mates in an exclusive interview.
Here are a few excerpts:
Q: You are out of the national team for close to a year since featuring in the 2015 Hockey World League Semifinal Round in Belgium – how optimistic are you of playing in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Well, I always look to stay positive irrespective of what the situation is. I want to play in the Rio Olympics for sure. I have played three Asian Games, two World Cups, two Commonwealth Games and one Olympics and Rio is my next target. We are Asian champions and it will be nice if I get to play my role in my team winning an Olympic medal.
Q: How have you managed your training during the time you are out of the national team?
I have been associated with hockey for 20 years since I picked up the hockey stick at a small age. Hockey is the only thing I wanted to do. I train very hard every day, both skill and fitness-wise, and whenever my national team needs my services I’m ready.
Q: Don’t you think you have lost out on a crucial 10-11 months of international hockey – missing five international assignments?
Every player works hard to achieve success be it any sport. Yes, when you work hard and during your peak time of your career you miss international action for nearly a year, it is frustrating and distressing.
Q: It’s been a hard one year for you – you were banned and when your ban was lifted following a court order, you could not be part of the Hockey India League auctions and hence you could not play in the league.
It’s not about the money the league offers but the sheer thrill of not playing in it hurts. It was no fault of mine that auctions were held when two months of my nine-month ban had passed. I agree it’s been a tough time for me.
Q: Did you see a lifeline of sorts when you were picked in the Indian team for the 2016 SAF Games?
My passion lies in playing for the country – whether it is SAF or any tournament. I’m always ready to serve the country irrespective of whether it’s a full-strength national side or a second string national side. I gave my best at the SAF Games.
Q: You captained Punjab at the senior nationals, where you lost to Railways in a shootout – that must have been an opportunity to let the selectors and coaches know that you are fit as a fiddle despite being out of the side.
My whole team played as a unit and I don’t want to alone take credit for our good showing. I was happy to lead from the front and make sure our team performed well.
Q: Former great Dhanraj Pillay has said that you must be picked in the Indian team for the Olympics. Your thoughts.
Dhanraj bhai has spoken for the players before, not just me. I always have high regard for him.
Q: You moved the court against Hockey India for banning you for nine months – do you have anything against the federation?
Why will I have anything against the federation? Trust me; I have nothing personal against anyone. At that moment, I took court help because I felt that the ban slapped on me was unfair as there is provision in the federation to hand such a lengthy ban. That’s all, I only reacted to salvage my playing career and nurse no personal grudges against anyone.
Q: Looking back, what would say about the report submitted by Jude Felix, which led to the ban being slapped on you.
Look, I have nothing against Jude Felix. I asked Jude Felix during the disciplinary hearing whether ever I misbehaved or disrespected him verbally or otherwise and he in front of all said that I never did any such thing. Jude Felix said he feels I don’t respect him (mera ko dil se lagte hai tu mera ko respect nahi karta). What can I do if somebody ‘feels’ deep inside I don’t respect him.
Q: How much do you miss being not in the Indian team?
Very much – I keep following my team on television when they are playing international matches or our players when HIL was on. I surely miss my teammates but there are certain things that I cannot control.
Q: How do you assess India’s Olympic chances?
Look, irrespective of whether I play in the Rio Olympics or not, I feel the Indian team can make a podium finish if they play to their full potential. I repeat if we play to our full potential we can bag a medal as our performances in last few years have shown that we can beat any top side on any given day.