Hockey India struggles with coaching staff crunch

With uncertainty over analytical coach Chris Ciriello’s return, men’s team physio Dave MacDonald bid adieu on Wednesday, citing ‘personal reasons’.

Hockey

In the midst of a pandemic that shows no signs of relenting in the country and less than a year to go for the Olympics, Hockey India is struggling to bring things back on track (Representative Image).   -  Getty Images

The last time the Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams stepped out competitively was in February. The next time they will do so will be in 2021.

But while lack of competition has been common across the world, Hockey India (HI) also has bigger, personnel issues. With uncertainty over analytical coach Chris Ciriello’s return, men’s team physio Dave MacDonald bid adieu on Wednesday, citing ‘personal reasons’.

Two weeks back, high performance director David John had done the same. In the midst of a pandemic that shows no signs of relenting in the country and less than a year to go for the Olympics, HI is struggling to bring things back on track.

“I don’t understand the planning. Everyone knew things would not go as scheduled as far back as March during the first lockdown. And yet the players were kept at SAI till June without any training. They should have been allowed to go back much before,” said former India coach and captain Vasudevan Baskaran.

“And now, when again everyone knows there is no competition till January, why is there a camp in Bangalore? Given that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) is in charge, ideally they should have decided to assemble sometime in October and flown to Europe which is now relatively safer, staying there for a month or more. That would have given them both physical and mental freedom and proper competition against the clubs there,” he reasoned.

READ | Harmanpreet Singh: Hockey Pro League restart will help India study European teams

Sources say players, restricted on campus with only light training, are gradually losing motivation. The six who recovered from COVID-19 are worse, not allowed to push themselves even in the gym.

“Doctors advise going easy even after recovery because it directly affects the lungs. An elite athlete may recover faster but he also works harder. How can these boys be asked to suddenly step up and give 100 percent in the Pro League,” V. Baskaran asked.

Hockey India, citing lack of recognition as the national federation, did not answer and directed all queries to the SAI although sources say it has informally started the process of finding replacements for MacDonald and John. But it’s not just the men who are struggling with the manpower crisis.

The junior men’s team has a grand total of two members in its support staff as per the HI website – coach BJ Kariappa and physio Sanjeet Kumar. The junior women’s team has three – a coach and a video analyst besides Erik Wonink as the analytical coach -- and chief coach Baljit Singh Saini, now in the US, has reportedly sought a salary hike and no longer features on the HI roster.

While the Olympics are clearly the priority, the junior sides merit attention given that both the men’s and women’s Junior World Cups are scheduled, as of now, towards the end of 2021. The Junior Asia Cups have been postponed with the players also on a break. With the age-group national championships also not happening, the juniors have been twiddling thumbs.

Amidst all this the women’s team, relegated to the shadows for long, is ironically best-placed. With ample, close-knit support staff, there is continuity and clarity in both personnel and programme. The team has planned tours to Australia and Netherlands next year besides the Asian Champions Trophy in the run-up to Tokyo.

For the rest, however, it is a race against time for a federation that Abhinav Bindra called miles ahead of the pack three years ago.

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