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February 22, 2000


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High ... and dry!

Cedric D'Souza

We are in the midst of the Azlan Shah hockey tournament in Malaysia, with India having a bag of mixed fortunes. As such, my comments about the performance of Indian team will have to wait till the end of the tournament. In the meantime, a brief on the Russell Garcia lifetime ban recently imposed by the British Olympic Association.

I have known Russell for the better part of two years whilst being attached to the Indian team and found him to be a true fighter epitomising the true English bulldog spirit. Russell is a full-time professional who has made 289 international appearances -- scoring 82 goals -- for Great Britain. He is one of the few British players who have made a mark in the European circuit, and today is a player/coach for the Harvestthuder club in Hamburg. Whenever India played England or Britain, you could rest assured that Russell would be in the thick of things, fighting for the ball and encouraging his players to give off their best. I cannot help but add that he is the most experienced England and Great Britain hockey player and the sport's youngest-ever Olympic gold medal winner. At 29, he has already played in three Olympics which is certainly a very creditable feat.

Thus, it came as a rude shock when I heard that he tested positive for the consumption of cocaine on the December 2, 1999. He was immediately suspended for three months by the Great Britain Olympic Hockey Board (GBOHB) as well as by the German Hockey Board. However, the British Olympic Association did not take such a lenient view. Since it goes by very rigid rules -- which state that any person found guilty of a doping offence by a national governing body shall not be eligible thereafter for consideration as a member of a Great Britain Olympic team -- it banned Garcia for life.

As individuals have the right to appeal, Russel will. He admits that he did a stupid thing at a party in Hamburg and after really agonizing about his actions felt it was his duty to inform the Great Britain team management about his faux pas when he arrived at the training camp. Unfortunately for him, his name was randomly picked for testing and I can't imagine the anguish that must have gone through his mind while he awaited the results. Though his actions really do seem out of character, one can say with total sincerity that there was no performance enhancement motive behind them. In his own words, he feels terrible about what he has put his family, friends, teammates and the game through and has shed a lot of tears in regret. He is depressed that he cannot train on the same ground as his teammates and finds it awfully hard to accept the fact that he won't be around to help the team at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Osaka in March.

But all is not yet lost for Russell. In recent weeks he has received a lot of encouragement from former teammates and other renowned figures in the sport in his determined bid to get the ban overturned. Sean Kerly, Britain's greatest goal-scorer who was a gold medal winner along with Russell at the Seoul Games in 1988, and Dr Richard Dodds, who was the captain of the 1988 team and now a member of the GBOHB, have both offered to try and help. Former teammate Rob Thompson, who played with Russell at Atlanta in 1996, too, has chipped in. Being a solicitor by profession, he has offered his services for the appeal.

Looking at the episode, there are a few areas that provide a ray of hope for Russell. One is the fact that he did not lie but admit his mistake. Then, it must be remembered that the drug was not used for performance enhancement or during competition.

We all hope that Russell will be successful in his attempt to convince the BOA to lift the ban and permit him to participate at the Sydney Olympics, which will make him one of the few players in the history of the Games to have participated in four Olympics. For the moment, however, Russell will have to watch his team on the telly, as he has been lefty out of the 18-member squad that's been selected for the Olympic qualifier.

The Great Britain team, back from a satisfying tour of Australia and New Zealand, is brimming with optimism, creative ability and confidence. Their coach Barry Dancer has stuck with the same team -- barring one change -- thereby ensuring continuity and stability, which in his own words should "contribute strongly to the overall team performance".

With the advent of Barry there is a definite change for the better. Today one can see the team play a blend of the Aussie aggressive, free-flowing style with the English never-say-die attitude. Although they do have the ability to create numerous chances, they must sustain continuity in their attacking play as well as ensure that they do not get complacent at the back by maintaining a watertight defence. That can see them snatch a berth for the Sydney extravaganza.

The team:
Goalkeepers: David Luckes, Simon Mason.

Defenders: Tom Bertram, Julian Halls, Andy Humphrey, Michael Johnson, Craig Parnham, Jon Wyatt (captain).

Midfielders: Guy Fordham, David Hacker (vice-captain), Manpreet Kochar, James Wallis, Duncan Woods.

Forwards: Culam Giles, Danny Hall, Stuart Head, Mark Pearn, Ben Sharpe.

Notable absentees who had regularly turned out for England are (England captain) Billy Waugh, Brett Garrard and David Mathews. They are either rehabilitating after undergoing surgery or have just returned to training following injuries and are not yet match fit.

Cedric D'Souza

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