It is always a sad day when any situation in sport ends up going to court, after all it is supposed to be just a game. It is not life or death, although as we all know there is big money tied up in it these days.
Sport has and always will thrown up characters who are often referred to as a “flawed genius.” Players who are clearly exceptionally talented, yet do not fit the stereotypical norms that are often expected to make up a team.
In days gone by Australian batsman Doug Walters was renowned for staying up all night and then managing to score runs for Australia the next day. Sir Garry Sobers, probably the greatest cricketer to ever play the game was another. George Best, Frank Worthington, Rodney Marsh and Slim Jim Baxter were another group from the sport of football who would struggle to conform to the curfews imposed today.
Often how these players are managed determines whether they play at the highest level and how much fans are allowed to enjoy their talents. Eric Cantona found himself too hot to handle for the French national team. Shane Warne and Sir Ian Botham were both ‘managed’ to a certain extent as their talent was seen a exceptional and a key to success.
Hockey India have took the bold step of banning the fittest player in their side, as well as one of their best defenders Gurbaj Singh. Gurbaj was banned for nine months following the World Hockey League semi Finals in Antwerp. He was accused of trying to factionalise the team, and disrespecting the coaching staff; an allegation he has denied. (Troublemaker or Scapegoat)
A few days ago his appeal was heard and the ban was upheld, a ban that prevents him from playing domestically, and in the lucrative Hockey India League. Ironically the very competition in which his form for the Delhi Waveriders saw him re-instated to the national team by Terry Walsh, after accusations he had been disruptive at the London Olympics.
Gurbaj, feels that the matter is a personal vendetta and has stated that he will now seek justice through the courts.
What appears baffling is that it would appear to be one man’s word against another. Coach Paul van Ass was sacked following the Hockey World League semi Finals and so did not complete his tournament report. His assistant coach, who resigned on personal grounds after the tournament, Jude Felix wrote and submitted the report on which Hockey India have acted.
There is an old saying ‘there is no I in team’ and there is no place in the India team for a player who believes he is bigger than the team. Yet publicly Gurbaj has received support from his team mates and it has even been reported that the new coach High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans who was in Belgium when the trouble is alleged to have occurred, has supported Gurbaj.
Does Gurbaj have a case? Are Hockey India preventing him earning a living from the sport at which he excels? He works day-today in the Punjab Police force, so Hockey is not his main source of income, however as is the case with many top athletes in India, his work and his sporting life go very much hand-in-hand. It will be interesting to see how it pans out, but let us hope it never gets to that stage as the last thing Hockey needs is a court case which sees two respected men in the game throw mud at each other.
This situation should never have reached this stage. If Gurbaj was a problem in Belgium, why was he not dealt with then, and in the worst case scenario sent home?
India may have a conveyor belt of talent, but Gurbaj is a player who holds his own amongst the best in the world, and if India want to seriously stand on the podium in Rio next year after an absence of 36 years, he is a key component in achieving that goal. A ban of nine months away from top flight hockey will mean he will never be match fit, and India will suffer for his absence.
Sadly now the case has gone to appeal and the decision has been upheld there will be too many powerful people left with egg on their faces should they back down.
One feels that someone should have sat all the parties down around a table and tried to iron out the differences in a way that all left with their reputations in tact and made sure that one man’s career was not destroyed. It is very sad that this has reached this stage and no one comes out of the situation in a positive light.