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September 23, 1999


send this column to a friend Cedric D'Souza

Promises and lies

Close on the heels of immense negative publicity for Indian hockey, another controversy surfaced last week. It is the one regarding Mukesh Kumar's preference to play in the Malaysian league rather than represent India.

If one is to accept what appeared in the media as Gospel truth, then Mukesh has erred by not obtaining sanction from the Indian Hockey Federation and his employers Indian Airlines. However, I would not like to pass judgement on Mukesh without hearing his side of the story. This, hopefully, will be done on his return, and when he narrates what transpired between him and the authorities.

Till then, there will be several theories floating around why the star Indian forward forfeited the privilege of playing for the country and opted to play in Malaysia instead.

Having been closely connected with the players for some time, I could, with a certain degree of confidence, list some probable reasons for Mukesh's decision.

Mukesh recently tied the nuptial knot, and hence his responsibilities towards his family must have weighed heavily on his mind. Thus, augmenting his income could have taken precedence over other issues.

Then, there is the fact that, after having played for India for over a decade, he has nothing to show for long service to the game. Perhaps, just a few medals and certificates, but nothing concrete that could make his and his family's life more comfortable.

Another reason that could have swayed his decision is the well-known fact that there are far too many of our past Olympians languishing among the menials, who can hardly make ends meet. Realising that a player has a very short playing span, perhaps he thought it best to cash in on the opportunity that came his way.

Then, another reason could also be the shoddy treatment meted out by the IHF to his contemporary fellow players, who have been left in the cold after helping India win the Asian Games gold medal in Bangkok. Fearing the same indignation that his fellow players are facing, Mukesh, probably, felt it better to have a bird in hand. This, I do believe, could have swayed his decision.

Then, there is the commitment angle. Mukesh may have already confirmed his acceptance before the IHF asked him to join the team. We all know how IHF makes last-minute decisions; how they shower you with praises at one moment and treat you with utter disdain the next. This, too, must have weighed heavily on his mind whilst taking the decision.

But what I am certain about is the 'financial gain' aspect. If a hockey player can make a substantial living from the sport (like our cricketers) then certainly they would not have to resort to leaving the shores of the country to earn that extra buck. Although hockey might lure a few sponsors, it is a fact that none of the money gained from sponsorship comes to the players and team officials.

From the team's perspective, in the context of their take home remuneration, hockey is still a poor man's sport; the paucity of funds still exists. As much one appreciates the IHF's efforts in procuring sponsors, there should be some leeway within the budget that specifies a quantum for the team's betterment. It is my firm opinion that a nominal percentage, handed over to the team, will be a tremendous boost in terms of rapport, healthy relations and motivation to succeed.

Recently, in an interview, Pritam Takran Rani, the captain of the Indian women's hockey team, had complained about Mr. Gill not having fulfilled his promise to the women's team after the Bangkok Asian Games. Well, Pritam, if it is any consolation, then let me point out that you are not the only one at the wrong end of the stick. There have been numerous occasions when promises made to the Indian men's teams too were not kept.

During my tenure as coach, from 1994-96, the IHF started handing out 25,000 rupees to the team prior to their departure on international tours. The first instance was the Asian Games at Hiroshima (when Zafar Iqbal was coach) and the second, at the Sydney World Cup (my first tournament as coach). On my return from the World Cup I suggested to Mr Gill that instead of just handing over the money to the players prior an international tournament, we should link this money to productivity and pay the boys proportionately according to the teams' performance. He readily agreed and it was decided that the team would get 25,000 for winning, 20,000 for finishing runners-up, 15,000 for a third place and 10,000 for fourth place. However, a lot of time elapsed with not a farthing forthcoming from the IHF. It prompted the players to get me to ask the IHF about the promises (cash incentives). This was done periodically with Mr. Gill, along with handing over the summary of the outstanding amounts. Mr. Gill would then instruct me to re-assure the players that he knew he owed them the money and he would fulfill his promise. The exercise went on for long, culminating in the players disbelieving in the IHF and its promises.

As time went, one overheard the players scoff at Mr. Gill's assurances when he spoke about their dues. Indeed, if one is to take the IHF chief's word, then a lot of money is due to the team, both players and officials, from 1995 onwards.

Just prior to the Indo- Pak series, Mr. Gill eventually agreed to pay the players Rs 20,000 every quarter. Let us get our facts straight, the players received this money only once; after that the same old story continued. There are many who feel that the IHF paid this Rs 20,000 under duress and out of great reluctance, because it was far too late for them to take any action against the team, which was ready to leave for Pakistan. So, the players did have their say, though they got their due on this sole occasion. But what happened after that? Zilch.

All this surely has an adverse effect on the intimacy of the IHF and players, who prefer to remain silent for fear of being axed/dropped, like the 'super six' after the Asian Games.

Although the IHF might have raised the players' profiles by putting them up in good hotels during tournaments, the concession has done little in fostering a healthy relationship between the federation and players.

There have been times when officials have asked: why should the players be paid? Is not a privilege to play for the country?

Yes, no one doubts that. But in this modern day of professional sport, monetary considerations are an added means of stimulation and motivation. Besides, the idea of rewards and recognition is a universal policy, used to get the best out of the team and ensure quality performances. It is only teams which strike a good balance between national pride, sound structuring of the game and healthy remuneration that perform consistently at the international level.

Finally, the moral of the story: promises once made must be kept. Rewards and recognition, or even a pat on the back, must be given when it is due.

Check with sports psychologists about the effect of the above on a team and they will be tell you that these false promises are the biggest de-motivators and root cause of breakdowns in communication, which ultimately leads to bickering and poor performance.

At the cost of being repetitive, I must state that, to avoid controversies and ensure a harmonious existence between the administration and players, the IHF must explores the feasibility of entering into contracts. That would be the first step in setting the house in order and lifting the stock of Indian hockey.

Cedric D'Souza

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