Rajinder, yet another scapegoat?

THERE has never been a dull moment in Indian hockey; nor will there ever be.

THERE has never been a dull moment in Indian hockey; nor will there ever be. The news recently was the removal of the chief coach, Rajinder Singh, hours after the selection committee named the 16 for the Olympics at Athens. The concatenation of circumstances has led to Gerhard Rach of Germany donning the mantle of chief coach, assisted by the former Olympian, Germany's Oliver Kutz and India's Jagbir Singh.

When the Germans were inducted before the team left for training in Arizona, it was evident that a shift of guard was in the offing. Further, the team had a disastrous four-nation tournament at Amstelveen, where India finished last after a series of pathetic defeats.

The inclusion of Jagbir Singh along with the Germans was a harbinger of change. The signals became clear when Rajinder was reportedly sidelined in the four-nation event at Dusseldorf.

Former players came in a chorus, criticising the federation for opting for a new coach, weeks before the Olympics. Quite predictably, the federation played a low tune, citing the inevitability of it because of the restriction on the number to be seated in the bench during the matches.

It was made abundantly clear to Rajinder Singh that he might have to eat a humble pie with the control of the team changing hands to the two Germans, the Dutch goal-keeper coach, Frank Leistra, and, of course, the FIH licenced Jagbir Singh. Ultimately, the IHF forced Rajinder Singh to opt out of the job.

The IHF could have handled the issue with a touch of sensitivity. The negative points relating to Rajinder Singh were definitely escalating. The team was floundering after all the hype of training abroad and what not.

Suddenly, Rajinder Singh found the luck he was riding since the junior team's World Cup triumph at Hobart slowly deserting him. Added to these was his poor relationship with the media, which he enforced on the players as well to follow.

The question here is the attitude of the federation towards coaches. This is not a phenomenon associated only with hockey, or even with India. At least four coaches became history after their teams had a poor run in the Euro 2004 soccer. But, in the Indian context, the trend of hiring and firing coaches deserves a critical evaluation.

Successive administrations have found it easier to axe the coach than to go into the causes of the poor showing of the team.

From Balbir Singh to Balkishen Singh to Ajitpal and Harmik, down to Ganesh, Govinda, Kaushik, Baskaran, Cedric and now Rajinder, the coaches had suffered the humiliation and witch-hunting for the failures of the team.

Every one of them came into the fold with reputation and credentials, but left the scene bitter, disappointed and in public disgrace. The sacking of Balbir Singh, shortly after the first ever World Cup at Kuala Lumpur, and that of M. K. Kaushik, consequent to the Asiad gold in Bangkok after 22 years, underscores the insensitivity of the administrators.

Abominable, however, have been the circumstances created for Cedric D'Souza to leave the scene during the World Cup at Kuala Lumpur in 2002. Now the dismissal of Rajinder Singh in Dusseldorf was a similar drama with tragic portents.

True, the coaches are accountable, but all should share the responsibility of failure. Victimising them for the poor performance of the team lowers their image in the eyes of the players and the public as well.

The problem can easily be sorted out if the administration spends time by short-listing a panel of names and then pitching on one or two to sign a contract for a stipulated period. So far, the appointments have been on an ad hoc basis with no clear agreement.

Instances of sacked coaches finding favour again are also on record. Balkishen Singh returned after 1968, and so did Balbir Singh after 1975, to the Asian Games in Delhi. Cedric also left after Atlanta in 1996 but returned four years later.

The clauses governing the foreign coaches at this point are also not clear; nor there is an indication that a close scrutiny is made about their credentials.

Why pitch on these two, not well-known names on the coaching scene, when more reputed ones are willing and available to train?

With the developments reeking of flaws everywhere, the only thing left now for the fraternity is to pray for divine dispensation at Athens.