How Hardik Singh battled accusations of nepotism

Having become an established member of the team now, the 25-year-old's main goal is to ensure the Tokyo bronze is upgraded to a gold in Paris.
Last Updated : 03 July 2024, 15:08 IST

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Bengaluru: Born into a family of distinguished hockey players, it was hardly a surprise that Hardik Singh took up the sport. The midfielder’s father Varinderpreet Singh Ray was a part of the national set-up before giving up his ambitions at the peak of his career and taking up a police job owing to family commitments.

His grandfather Preetam Singh Ray, the inspiration behind the Paris Olympics-bound Indian team vice-captain’s foray into the sport, worked as a coach with the Indian Navy and is amongst the highly-regarded names in the field.

His uncle Gurmail Singh, the most accomplished of all, won a gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Another of his uncle is Jugraj Singh, one of the most feared drag-flickers and fearless defenders the sport has seen.

Hardik’s aunt Rajbir Kaur, the wife of Gurmail, also represented the country. It's not just in the family, hockey is also deeply ingrained at his birthplace – Khusropur in Jalandhar district, a place famous for producing several players of repute.

But this rich legacy was used as a means to taunt Hardik despite the obvious talent. Although the 25-year-old did the hard yards as a youngster, accusations of being a "product of nepotism" were hurled at him at the start of his international career. For the record, he first learned the craft under the tutelage of his grandfather, then honed it at the Punjab Institute of Sports Academy in Mohali before becoming a semi-polished product at the renowned Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar that played a big part in him breaking into the Indian team.  

“When I first broke into the Indian team (at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat), most of them thought it was because of nepotism considering some members of my family played for the country,” the 25-year-old Hardik told DH.

“My dad played hockey, my uncle won (an Olympic) gold medal and they knew a lot of people in the hockey circles. They felt I was born with a silver spoon and things were handed out to me and I didn’t have to work as hard as someone else who didn’t have a family background in the sport.”

Hardik, who will be representing in his second Olympics in Paris, said he was prepared for such stuff and was determined to make his talent speak for itself. “I really had to work doubly hard to prove that I’m not a product of nepotism and I’m talented enough to earn a spot in the team. The early days were really tough. But I always believed in my talent and just worked hard to let my game speak for itself.

“It used to hurt me a lot at the start because I knew I’ve worked as hard as anyone else to become an international player. It took about three years to establish myself but things are fine now. Now, people who had a grouse against me then know that I’m here because of my own talent and potential.”

Having become an established member of the Indian team now, Hardik’s main goal is to be a rock in the midfield and ensure the Tokyo bronze is upgraded to a gold in Paris. “I never thought I was going to win an Olympic medal (at Tokyo) at 23 years of age. It’s still a big achievement for me. My main target is to win the gold medal in Paris. The team has been working extremely hard for this and we can’t wait to play.”

Hardik believes to achieve that, one needs to remain composed. “I’m going to treat it as a normal tournament. Yes, it’s the Olympics but in my mindset, it’s going to be an eight-match series. It’s imperative not to allow pressure get the better of you. It’s a high-stakes tournament but the key is to stay calm. Key is to control our emotions. There will be moments when we may be 1-0 or 2-0 down but we shouldn’t lose our composure and always believe a goal is going to come.”

Published 03 July 2024, 15:08 IST

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