Players served with 24-hour deadline as standoff intensifies

Last Updated 11 January 2010, 15:03 IST

Peeved by the fresh strike, Hockey India, the game's governing body, threatened to crack the whip by warning the players to return to the camp by Tuesday evening but the players seemed to be in no mood to relent till their demands were met.

A top HI source said that the players have been given a 24-hour deadline to return to the camp or face disciplinary action but senior player Prabhjot Singh, who has been appointed by his teammates as their representative for the negotiations, said they had not received any such ultimatum.

"The ultimatum is all hypothetical. Till now we have not received any ultimatum. We were told that HI officials were coming here tonight. Let us see what happens, we are waiting for their arrivals", Prabhjot said.

A high-level HI delegation headed by President A K Mattoo, Harish Sharma, Narender Batra and Jagbir Singh will leave for Pune either tonight or tomorrow morning to hold discussions with the striking players who are demanding their match dues, incentives and a graded payment structure among other things.

"We have communicated our views to them and we are hopeful that the players will see a reason to solve the problem. Antonio (FIH vice-president) will advice us at to what needs to be done in such a situation." Mattoo told reporters.

While the players went ahead with their threat to stay away from the camp until their dues and incentives were paid, Hockey India too made it clear that boycotting a national camp for pending payments was akin to blackmail.

Frustrated with the turn of events, Mattoo, who had only on Saturday night said that all issues had been resolved, threatened the players with suspension if they failed to report to the camp.

"If you ask me it is an option. I can use it today, tomorrow or any other day but I feel they are being misled and wrongly advised. I don't want this to happen," Mattoo said when asked if suspending the players is an option for Hockey India.

"We have taken note of their issues and I have opened up about whatever (money) we have with us, which has never been done before. They know we do not have a sponsor. I see no reason why they have taken this route," he said.

The players also came under attack from FIH, the game's world governing body, with its vice president Antonio von Ondarza saying the players had got their priorities all wrong. Ondarza, also the world body's observer for Hockey India elections, said staying away from training camp before an important event like World Cup was unheard of in the game's history.

"I came here yesterday and came to know about the players' strike from television. I am very sad at what is happening, this shouldn't have happened. This is completely unheard of in hockey circles," Ondarza said.

"We want India to comeback. India has been a traditional hockey nation in the world and for a player wearing India shirt should be his priority," he said.

On a day of high drama, the players stayed away from the camp, prompting the HI to send its representative Ikram Khan to negotiate with them in the morning.
"We are not training from this morning. We are waiting for Hockey India officials to arrive. We came to know that Hockey India officials are coming to meet the team. The team will have a meeting with them and let's see what happens," Prabhjot said.
Ikram Khan, however, insisted that boycotting a national camp was not right way to assert demands.

"They should not have boycotted the camp. They should respect their coaches, after all they are very senior players. They should start their practice and the other process will continue," Khan said.  

Sources in Pune said that HI had an additional list of 22 players and had bluntly told the players to give in writing whether they would be attending the camp.
"The players were told that another squad had been prepared and those who wanted to continue playing should report to the camp. But the players refused to do so," the source said.

The standoff is likely to have a bearing on the preparation for the World Cup to be held in Delhi from February 28 to March 13.

Chief coach Jose Brasa again sought to steer clear of the controversy which has rocked the preparations for the mega event, saying it was a matter between the players and HI.
Brasa, however, pleaded for an early settlement of the issue.

(Published 11 January 2010, 14:26 IST)

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