Ritu Rani's Olympic exclusion has an uncanny resemblance to the Chappell–Ganguly controversy
12 July holds immense significance in the history of Indian women's hockey. Not only did that day see a lot of mayhem on social media, but it also shocked the souls of many hockey lovers, creating wounds which won't be forgotten anytime soon.
Much has been said and written about the reasons behind the exclusion of Indian women's hockey captain Ritu Rani from the Rio-bound squad. The same woman who led India to Olympic qualification after a gap of 36 years has been unceremoniously left out.
The reasons behind her exclusion were 'poor performance' and 'bad attitude'. While 36 players celebrated their selection for the biggest show on earth in Delhi yesterday with much gusto, a 24-year-old woman was crestfallen at her home 150km away after hearing the news of her removal from the Indian captaincy.
While most names in the Indian hockey scene have failed to reach the ears of many households across India, Ritu Rani is one of the first names that come to mind when you think of the Indian hockey team.
Poor form and attitude? Or poor judgment?
While empathy seemed to know no bounds for the woman wronged, Sportskeeda decided to dig deeper into the matter which at best looked callous as well as fishy. A source very close to Ritu Rani said, on the condition of anonymity, "Poor form and attitude are not the reasons behind her ouster. Ritu has been an asset to the team for the last 10 years. Just one month away from Rio, how can that all change?"
The Indian captain made her debut at a tender age of 14 at 2006 Asian Games and has represented her nation more than 200 times in which she has found the net on 16 occasions. She was aware of the nation’s expectations since they have qualified for the Olympics. She was training hard and was confident about our preparation.
Rani had led the team to two bronze medal finishes in recent times – at the 2013 Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur and the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon. Sushila Chanu, who will lead the team in the upcoming Games, has gone on to wear the blue Indian jersey with pride and distinction for 112 times while vice-captain Deepika Thakur, another experienced campaigner has 172 caps to her names. Ritu has more than them.
"Before the tour of New Zealand, Ritu was asked to rest and not be a part of the tournament because the coach needed her to be fit for the tournament, and now this?" the source added in a baffled tone.
There were reports that Rani had been dropped for 'her lack of commitment', which comes as a shock. She has been a part of the team for the much of the last decade and never has any report surfaced regarding any problem of that sort.
"Rani was asked to attend her own engagement when the team was on a break for 10 days. She was reluctant at first but later returned to her home in Shahbad and exchanged rings in a quiet ceremony attended by close friends. When she returned from there, things were not the same." the source went on.
Not young enough at 24
Apparently, 24 is not young enough. At least not enough to be part of the future in Indian hockey, it seems. Rani was handed the armband back in 2011 and has been the leader ever since. But in the last six months, the hockey stalwart has seen her treatment become harsher by the day.
"The coach (Neil Hawgood) has been unfair to Rani at times in the build-up to Rio. She is not someone who raises her voice over every minute thing. So it was let go of. Neil is focusing on 2020 Olympics and wanted to give opportunities to a couple of fresh legs this year. Rani was even asked to marry off in two months if she wants to,” said another source on the condition of anonymity.
But then how can you remove the captain if that is the case. Rani could have been removed from captaincy like Sardar for the better, but how can you not respect the experience of a player with 213 international caps in a tournament as important as Olympics?", questioned the source.
This seems like a dubious reason, as Rani is still only 24 and already has a decade’s worth of experience already under her belt. Yes; a girl that burst on to the scene at the age of 14, when we were not even introduced to algebra or trigonometry, was deducing the physical and mental challenges of international hockey. And now, she is no longer a viable prospect for the team’s future.
Mismanagement by the management
After the news was broken, Ritu was asked to leave the camp the following day. "When she requested the management personally the reason of her exclusion, her focus and commitment were questioned which is very strange. All she was said was that there was no place for her in the team."
Rani's calls were not answered by anyone in the management. Two days before the announcement of the Rio-bound squad in Delhi, she visited the home of a top Hockey India official and returned from that visit with a memories of a host of undignified responses and neglect of the highest order.
"Rani was made to wait for 20 minutes outside his place after which the security guard came and informed her that ‘Sir’ was busy and would leave for work.” If this is how a captain of a national team is treated, it's indeed very sad,” the source added.
An uncanny resemblance to the Ganguly-Chapell fiasco?
The most striking thing about all of this is that there is an uncanny similarity between Neil Hawgood and Greg Chappell here. The basic storyline is similar – there is a sportsperson who is yet to realize his or her full potential and an Australian coach feels he or she is not capable of playing anymore.
Last time, everything ended on a positive note for Indian fans and the 'moviegoers' returned home happy. What will be the case this time? Of course, it is always possible that the spat between him and Ritu Rani was "blown out of proportion" and after some time everyone will "move on". Or maybe not.
At a time where India should celebrate its athletes as they send forth their biggest-ever Olympic contingent, the authorities across the nation have again failed us. Be it the Sushil Kumar–Narsingh Yadav controversy, the absence of a boxing federation or now the hockey fiasco, the nation and its sports authorities have again shown that there are still ways to go before they can really be termed “professional” bodies.
With the teams already announced and Ritu Rani missing the flight to Rio, there is nothing she can do now. Except for one thing: hope for a better tomorrow. "All she wants is justice. Nothing else," our source concluded. When Sportskeeda contacted Hockey India, they were unavailable for comments.
We learned during our childhood that heroes are always meant to end with a win. This is certainly not the end for Ritu Rani.