It’s just 382 days for the Rio Games and Indian hockey continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. Just when you think we finally have a team that may be able to challenge the European teams and has an outside chance of a podium finish in Rio, the controversy over the sacking of the coach becomes the headline. There are two versions to the story: while Paul Van Ass, five months into the job, claims that he was sacked by Hockey India (HI) on July 13, the team chief Narendra Batra dismissed his claims saying Van Ass has not been sacked.
|Paul Van Ass (centre) with Hockey India.|
Batra says HI had also sent him his air ticket to attend the camp currently on in Himachal Pradesh and it was Van Ass who reneged on his contract and did not file his report, as is mandatory, by July 15.
In sum, however, it is an ego issue. Whatever may have happened between Batra and Van Ass, the end result is Indian hockey is the loser. The players are without a coach at the moment and the uncertainty prevailing in the camp is only going to hamper Olympic preparations in the immediate future. Appointment of a new coach can only be damaging for youngsters who will have to get used to a new style, which can never be easy. How a simple visit to the pitch by the HI chief Narendra Batra escalated into such a huge ego battle between him and the coach is beyond comprehension. If Batra is to be believed, it was Van Ass who acted rude despite agreeing that it was fine for Batra to speak to the boys after their win against Belgium. What is pertinent is how an issue as trivial as this can lead to a situation where the national team is left without a coach!
So what’s the way forward? The best damage control would be to appoint Roelant Oltmans, the high performance manager and also a Dutchman as coach in the months leading up to Rio. He comes from a similar system of hockey and the players are used to having him around. But this will be no more than damage control because the damage has already been done. If the players lose steam and in the process lose out on days of preparation, India’s chances of a podium finish at Rio will take a serious beating. And in the final analysis, if the team fails to do well in the Olympics, we will all be ready to put the players under the guillotine, forgetting what transpired in the lead up.
Can the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India, employers of Van Ass, take notice? Can it broker some kind of truce with Hockey India? Will Batra somehow ensure that the Van Ass row does not escalate further and that the team gets back to training under either Van Ass or Oltmans without wasting more time?
Frankly, none of these things matter to the Indian fan except the team's performance at Rio. And for that every possible ego and self interest should and can be sacrificed.