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An Open letter to the IHF president (5/10/2004)
--s2h team
Dear Mr KPS Gill,

AS a hockey lover my heart brims with joy looking at the amount of interest that has been created in the last couple of days over the National team's medal chances at the Athens Olympics. On the face of it, the movement looks like supporting one individual player - Dhanraj Pillay - but I'm sure you'll relish the inherent concern Indian sport lovers have for hockey. Much as you feel peeved at the voices of criticism raised above the functioning of the IHF, you can't ignore the concern in them about India winning a medal at the Olympics. I don't have to remind you of the fact that India had won their first Olympic gold at the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam a good four years before India played their first Test in cricket (against England in 1932). Indian sport lovers are aware and appreciative of the fact it was hockey that gave them their first world champions. That's the reason names like Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh, followed by those of KD Singh Babu and Balbir Singh till that of Mohammed Shahid, Vasudevan Baskaran and now Dhanraj Pillay are revered like Gods in the heart-temples of Indian sport devotees.

It is for the same reason that different voices - from common man, cricket champions and connoisseurs of hockey alike - have been raised in chorus about India's chances at the Olympics. An Indian win might inspire Sri Lanka and Pakistan to go on and win the cricket world cup, but an Indian hockey medal at the world's most awe-inspiring stage - the Olympics is something that will inspire to keep the Indian sport wheel rotating.

Yes. I was happy at your statements (as that of your Secretary General's) that "the door has not been shut on Pillay", but delays and dilly-dallying in the recall of this player whom you once described as "the greatest player in modern hockey" will add only to the concern and confusion.

The country is undoubtedly proud of your conquests as the 'Super Cop of Punjab' and of your deft handling of the IHF affairs, but by allowing the voices of dissent to grow in this issue you have handed your detractors the initiative.

Look at the Win-Win situation the 'campaigners' have put themselves in:

1) If India go to Olympics without Pillay and don't win a medal: Their stand is vindicated.

2) If India go to Olympics with Pillay and win a medal: Their stand is again vindicated.

3) If India go to Olympics with Pillay and don't win a medal: The 'campaigners' are bound to say "He was demoralised by the delay of the IHF in announcing his name in the team."

The fourth situation, which of course is not impossible given the quality and quantity of hockey talent in the country, is for India to win a medal without Pillay. And the truth is that Dhanraj Pillay forms the most glamorous part of this 'quantity and quality of hockey talent'. Pillay was described by you not very long ago as "moves like a gazelle".

I'm not trying to hold a candle for Pillay, but purely on merit, this Indian Airlines star should be an integral part of the Indian team. As his colleague on many an Indian triumph Baljit Singh Dhillon.

That brings us to the point of a transparent method to select the team. By norm, as in official rules as in the reality of sport, every team is selected by a panel of experts who assess the merit, fitness and role a player can play in a team. Of course on two of these three counts, Dhanraj and Dhillon would not be ignored any hockey expert in the world. The third one - that of fitness - is what has made the whole affair a contentious issue. And the only way to solve the problem is to give them a fair trial of fitness. The whole issue can take an overturn if these players are not found fit by medical experts appointed by the IHF.

The voices that have been raised pro-Pillay will automatically turn pro-Gill. For, they are all raised because they are pro-hockey. Warm Regards

Sincerely Yours

S MAGESHWARAN

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