Indian newspapers and commentators have heavily criticised the country’s eight-time champion men’s field hockey team after they lost five consecutive matches at the Olympic tournament, including a 3-0 defeat to Belgium in their last pool match.
“A new low for Indian hockey: Played 5, lost 5” read a front-page headline in the Hindustan Times on Wednesday. The Hindu newspaper’s headline for its match report read: “National game now a national shame!”
Other newspapers and television networks were also critical of the national team, with only midfielder Sardara Singh receiving praise for his performance throughout the tournament.
India, who failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, play South Africa on Saturday in the match to determine 11th place.
Former captain Dhanraj Pillay blamed field hockey officials and the coaching staff led by Australian Michael Nobbs for the poor showing.
“Overall, it has been a disaster of a performance by the Indian hockey team except for one player, Sardara Singh, who played his heart out for the country,” Pillay wrote in a column in The Times of India on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what our coaching staff has been doing in London. Hockey India should learn from this.”
Hockey India replaced the Indian Hockey Federation as the national ruling body three years ago after the IHF was disaffiliated by world body FIH over administrative issues.
However, the now-rebel India Hockey Federation organised the World Series Hockey league earlier this year in which several former India players participated at the risk of being ignored for national selection.
Pillay, who came out of retirement to play in the WSH, blamed Hockey India officials for banning players who played in that league.
“Our selectors have dropped some of the most experienced players”
Former captain Dhanraj Pillay
“Our selectors have dropped some of the most experienced players,” the four-time Olympian wrote.
“There was no competition to select the Olympic team, anyone could have walked in.”
Another former player, Mohammad Shahid, said the current Olympic team did not deserve to be in London.
“They have let the whole nation down,” he was quoted as saying on the front page of the Hindustan Times.
India has won eight gold medals at the Olympics, including six in succession beginning in 1928 at Amsterdam. But it has been struggling to stay competitive since synthetic turfs, not prevalent in India, were introduced in the 1970s.
But expectations were high that India, which won the last of their gold medals in the boycott-affected Moscow Olympics in 1980, would finish among the top six after they scored an 8-1 victory over France in an Olympic qualifying tournament in New Delhi.
Criticism for the hockey team came amid a rousing welcome home for badminton player Saina Nehwal and rifle shooter Gagan Narang, who both won bronze medals at London.