Great Britain's joy is matched only by
India's despair [AFP]
Eight-time Olympic field hockey champions India won't be at the Beijing Games, marking the first time in 80 years it has failed to qualify for the competition.

India's hopes of figuring in the Beijing Olympic tournament ended on Sunday in a 2-0 loss to Britain in the final of a qualifying competition at Chile, provoking criticism from former players at the way the sport is governed in the country.

Ashok Kumar, a former captain and member of the 1975 World Cup winning squad, described India's failure to qualify for Beijing as a "huge national disaster.''

"This decline did not happen in one day, the hockey federation just did not seem interested in noticing and arresting the decline,'' Kumar said.

India won six consecutive Olympic gold medals from Amsterdam in 1928 but has slumped in the world rankings since winning the 1975 World Cup and the last of its eight Olympic gold medals at the boycott-marred Moscow Games in 1980.

Indian teams have briefly shown glimpses of its once dazzling stick-work, but it has not qualified for the semifinals of eight successive World Cups and six consecutive Olympic Games.

'Sad day'

Pargat Singh, who captained India at two Olympics, said India's failure to qualify for the Beijing Games should not surprise anyone.

"It's a sad day for Indian hockey, but people should have seen it coming,'' Singh said.

"The Indian Hockey Federation, the national Olympic association and the sports ministry are all responsible for the state of affairs.''

Singh said the country had few players of international quality and "the pool is further dwindling with the game not being promoted at the grass roots.''

"Indian hockey needs a rebuilding program, but the hockey federation doesn't seem bothered about bringing any change,'' he said.

India was forced to compete in one of the three qualifiers, from which one team each will feature at the Olympics, after it failed to figure among the medals at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

It was the first time the two-time Asian Games gold medalists have failed to win a medal at the continental games.

Media reports said coach Joaquim Carvalho had quit after Sunday's loss, but the hockey federation refused to comment.

No 'machine'

Indian Hockey Federation chief K.P.S. Gill acknowledged that the failure to qualify was a big setback, but was reported to have ignored demands for his resignation.

"We do not have a machine that you can get results instantly,'' Gill was quoted as saying by Press Trust of India.

"We've put the process in place and the results will take some time.

"It is not proper to respond at this stage. We'll wait for the team to return first, then we will have a clear idea what went wrong.''

The Indian capital New Delhi will host the 2010 men's field hockey World Cup, but India's absence from the Olympic lineup may take away some of the sheen from the sport that is still considered India's national game, despite cricket's immense popularity.

Source: Agencies