Court and Sport

We have been following the story of the banning of talented Indian Hockey player Gurbaj Singh for what appeared to be a personality clash with coaching staff. The national team player was banned for nine months from all Hockey in India. (Troublemaker or Scapegoat and It Should Never Have Come to This)

At the start of this week the Punjab and Haryana High Court termed the nine-month ban imposed on the midfielder for ‘creating groupism and disharmony within the team’ as “illegal” and ordered stay on the sanction with immediate effect.

This is good news for athletes, as issues such as this should never be addressed in such a way. Bans should only come about when athletes bring the game they play into serious disrepute, such as criminal activity, drug related issues, any behaviour that brings the sport bad publicity as a result of their behaviour away from the pitch. Serious foul play or unbecoming behaviour on the pitch should also result in suspensions and counselling.

Some will say that Gurbaj did bring the game into disrepute, yet there were very few who heard of the alleged disharmony that he is supposed to have caused until the team returned from the Hockey World League semi finals. So can it have been as harmful as many are making out?

India faced huge communication issues having a Dutch coach in Paul Van As, whose English is not fluent, as well as many players in their squad who do not speak English. Communication was always going to be tricky. These are issues that teams and governing bodies must take into account when appointing a head coach. Some head coaches handle different languages superbly, others struggle and have to rely on an interpreter to try and convey his message, and that is alway going to be hard.

Sadly having taken the matter to court and won Gurbaj now sees Hockey India’s authority undermined. The Game’s governing body now has to hold a meeting within seven days of the Courts ruling to address the issue.

This may still bring an end to Gurbaj’s international career and his Olympic hopes as he will still miss the Hockey World League Finals in Raipur in November and the Hockey India League in January, but he may well have helped players that follow. Hockey India will be more circumspect in the future when handing down punishments for such issues, as other players will no doubt, following this favourable outcome, opt to take the same path. That is not good for the sport in the long term.

It is a shame that this ever reached this stage. It is upsetting that there was no one in the coaching hierarchy who felt they could or should step in and nip whatever was brewing in the bud in Belgium. As stated previously if Gurbaj’s behaviour was so disruptive why not send him home? If there is a bad apple in the fruit bowl, you remove it before it starts to effect the other fruit.

Hockey India one feels were backed into a corner on the team’s return. The coach had been sacked, he as a result we are advised did not file a report on the tournament, yet this issue was brought to their attention by one of the other coaching staff. What were they to do? Back the player, which may make future coaches reconsider the role, or back the coaches. In India where there is so much talent that they opted it appears to sacrifice the player. When in truth, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, they should have reprimanded the player if they felt he was at fault, and also spoken to the coaching hierarchy and asked why this was not dealt with at the time and allowed to fester.

This has all happened in the same week that that All Black Mils Muliaina saw charges levelled against him dropped. Muliaina was arrested at the Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester on Friday April 3 this year following the conclusion of his rugby match after a female laid a complaint with Police that someone had touched her bottom while she was dancing.

New Zealand Rugby took the stance of innocent until proven guilty and are to be commended for doing so. Muliaina is currently in England representing them at the Rugby World Cup.

Muliaina had the humiliation of his arrest being televised, and then was unable to comment on the accusations.

Speaking from Cardiff, Muliaina said in a statement “I always knew I had nothing to hide, I had done nothing wrong. However, being unable to comment publicly has been incredibly frustrating. While I understand the police have a job to do, the manner of my arrest and the subsequent outcome of their investigation remains difficult to understand. It has been an extremely tough seven months.”

Two very different situations. Two very difficult and unenviable situations to handle as a sports administrator. However one feels that New Zealand Rugby were vindicated in the approach that they took. Hopefully Hockey India can find a way to extricate itself from the situation it finds itself in, still with its authority in tact, but at the same time allowing Gurbaj the chance to do what he dos best, play hockey. Maybe they should enlist him to do “community service” for the game, to help encourage and nurture the next generation. It would be very sad to see such a talent lost to the sport.

Court and Sport

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