By Special Correspondent

LUDHIANA, Punjab, India: Former International Star Olympian Balbir Singh, the brilliant forward who helped India win the hockey gold in the 1948, 152 and 156 Olympics, feels that Indian hockey can really bounce back to glory “provided we reshuffle our priorities”.

Balbir Singh, who has been Director (Sports), Punjab, told this reporter that the Indian genius for hockey “just could not have died out. It is only that we have mucked up our standing by a combination of poor planning and politicking”.

‘The star of yesteryears, who created the Olympics record for most goals in the semifinals and final of the hockey event at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics ‘was emphatic that neither AstroTurf nor the changes in rules could be used as an alibi for India’s failure to perform well.

“Actually, Astroturf should suit our wristy players better than it suits the rough tackling Europeans. Nor do our players lack in stammina. Buta reverse here and a reverse there have forced our planners to push panic buttons. The original style of our players has ‘been needlessly interfered with. That has disturbed their natural rhythm and the typical Indian style of hockey is being made a victim because of lack of foresight and perseverance, he said,

Balbir Singh expressed himself against engaging foreign coaches for any sports discipline. “They do not even understand our players. And in any ‘case our coaches in most of the discipline are among the best in the world, They know the players and their weaknesses and their strong points and. can work on them. A better idea would be to send our coaches abroad to update their knowledge”, he said.

Balbir Singh is also critical of the hockey establishment for hanging the sword of Damocles over the heads of the national coaches.

“Every time we lose a tournament, they sack the coach. This makes no sense at all. In fact it robs both the coaches and the players of using their experience gained the hard way. Every coach must be ensured a tenure of at least four years. This is the minimum he needs to try out his ideas in the long run,” he said.

He gave the example of Australia who have not changed their coach for the past 12 years. Though initially they failed to qualify for the Olympic hockey finals, they came back strongly at the next international meet. He also said that frequent changes of players was also bad.

Pakistan, who after battling out with India for the two bottom positions in last World Cup at London, finished a creditable second in the recently concluded Champions Trophy. The former Indian star felt that India and Pakistan must play together more often than they do now.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 13, 1988