The glorious yet troubled history of Indian Hockey in Olympics
Indian hockey has a rich legacy in the Olympics, something with which we all are proud of. But there is another thing that has been associated with Indian hockey for a long time – call it divisions, infighting, groupism – all these have been deep-rooted in the team when it came to the Olympics.
The country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal triumph in 1928 at Amsterdam was marred with ‘captaincy’ controversy. There were quite a few England-based Indians who were dismayed over the appointment of Jaipal as captain. In fact, Jaipal walked out of the team midway through the tournament and was replaced by Eric Pinninger.
Things were no different at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics – again there was groupism in the team (Indians vs Anglo-Indians). Trouble was brewing when Lal Shah Bokhari was named captain ahead of Eric Pinniger. The team’s non-playing captain Pankaj Gupta ensured better sense prevailed after he cajoled Pinniger to accept Bokhari’s captaincy.
If that captaincy tussle was not enough, India’s second goalkeeper Arthur Hind refused to don the turban just before the march-past during the opening ceremony and was asked to return home, but only stayed back after tendering an apology.
Balbir Singh made his Olympic debut scoring 6 goals in India’s 9-1 win over Argentina at the 1948 London edition but reasons best known to the team management, he was dropped for the next two games against Spain and the Netherlands.
After much clamour for his return, Balbir was reinstated for the semi-final and final, where he played a key role scoring a brace. The 1952 Helsinki Olympics was not controversy-free either as inclusion and exclusion of certain players for the Olympics left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
The 1968 Mexico Olympics saw two key players Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh – openly fighting for captaincy and things came to such a pass that both were named joint captains for that Olympics. The 1976 Montreal Olympics brought to the fore a side rocked by infighting concerning division of money generated through sale of hockey sticks.
The 1992 Barcelona Olympics was a tough time for coach Balkrishan Singh as he found it hard to manage his players amidst murmurs of some making merry with late night binges.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics team was a divided one – as claimed by coach Cedric D'Souza after India played a controversial goalless draw against Malaysia to keep Canada out of the Olympic qualifier in Barcelona, as some of the seniors in the Indian team were very much in the know, while the coach and a majority of other players learnt it later.
Dissension in the Indian ranks was seen at the 2004 Athens Olympics as well. German Gerhard Rach was named coach just weeks before the Olympics replacing Rajinder Singh, who was at the helm for a long time. There was talk of dissension and rebellion against Rach by some of the players who were unhappy with his tactics and strategies.
Unbecoming behaviour or groupism or infighting has been long part of Indian hockey in Olympics.