One of the major reasons why tributes are pouring in from all and sundry for the great Balbir Sigh Sr is because of his genial nature. A simpleton, who dressed impeccably even in his 90s, Balbir Singh barely exhibited hubris despite being one of the country’s most famous athletes.
B P Govinda, who won the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 1975 when Balbir was the manager of the team, hailed him as a ‘father figure’. “When he came on board as the manager of the team, we all knew what a great player he was. But not once did he speak about having won three gold medals. For many, he along with Dhyan Chand, are the two great hockey players but for me he was a father figure.
“In a team there were always some players who are exceptional. Not all can be great. But he never differentiated. For him all in the team were equal and he treated everyone the same. There were no favourites,” said Govinda who scored two goals in the tournament.
Former India hockey captain Jude Felix too lavished praise on Balbir. “We all knew of his greatness but I felt it when I met him. I can’t recall the year but he gave some tips on deceiving the rival defence. After the suggestions he offered, one knew he had to be a great. The way he carried himself, the humility, is a lesson for all young athletes today. His ideas of the game were also futuristic.”
Elvira Britto, one of the most famous women players, paid rich tribute to Balbir. “He was one of our inspirations when we were young. He was wonderful to watch and even more wonderful to interact with. He barely spoke a word out of anger and he carried that modesty throughout his life. It’s a great loss for Indian hockey.”