Friday, 31 July: Paul van Ass’ unceremonious sacking and frequent change of coaches is “potentially destabilising Indian hockey” but the country has just enough time to prepare and train itself for an “outstanding performance” in Rio Olympics, feels former coach Terry Walsh.
Walsh said he was saddened by Van Ass’ sudden ouster just five months into the job following an altercation with Hockey India president Narinder Batra.
“This (Van Ass’ sacking) is potentially destabilising for the Indian hockey team,” Walsh told PTI in an interview from Perth, when asked about the current mess in Indian hockey just a year ahead of the Rio Games.
Van Ass was the fourth foreign coach to be shown the door unceremoniously ever since Hockey India took over the reins of the game in 2009.
Van Ass’s predecessors Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs and Walsh – all of whom were hired by Sports Authority of India on the recommendations of HI at hefty salaries – also left the country on an unceremonious note.
Walsh, under whose guidance India sealed a direct ticket to next year’s Olympics after winning the gold in the Incheon Asian Games, however feels the Sardar Singh-led side has the potential to create a magic in Rio.
“With appropriate preparation and training this squad is capable of an outstanding Olympic performance. There may even be a medal opportunity in Rio if all is put together properly and opportunities are grasped. But realistically though, that will now be very tough,” Walsh observed.
The former coach, though, was surprised by the disciplinary issues raised against Gurbaj Singh and said the experienced midfielder is a key player for India going into the Olympics.
“The team has enough time to reset direction for the Olympics in Rio. (But) it surprises me that issues are again being had with Gurbaj. I found him to be an outstanding component of our team. Without key players like Gurbaj, the task becomes seriously more difficult,” Walsh said about Gurbaj’s omission from India’s upcoming Europe tour on disciplinary grounds.
Like his successors, Walsh too faced a tough time working in India and finally had to do away with his job after HI president Batra accused him of financial impropriety during his tenure as technical director USA Field Hockey.
Asked Walsh about the episode with Batra and the resignation that followed, the Australian simply said it was “a sad and emotional time” of his illustrious coaching career.
“My difficulties revolved around administrative process. The players and staff were a pleasure to work for and with.
The office staff were also extremely helpful and I made very strong friendships with the players, coaches and office staff during my time in India,” he said.
“What transpired through Mr Batra’s narcissistic behaviour and accusations was very sad. There is always a first for everything but this period was a shock and seemed totally unnecessary.
“Yes, it was a very sad and emotional time in my career.
Mr Batra accused me falsely of financial impropriety and my integrity was unfairly tarnished,” Walsh said.
Accusing Batra of “premeditated character assassination”, Walsh blamed “systematic failure” behind India’s slump in world hockey.
“Communication is not difficult but the premeditated character assassination initiated by Mr Batra is not in my top 20 wonderful memories that I have in working with the Indian Team,” he said.
“The changes I was seeking involved a much greater decision making capacity for Roelant Oltmans as Technical Director. At critical moments I felt it would have been much more productive to have greater support from certain quarters.
Underpinning my involvement in Indian Hockey was the requirement to implement change and take Indian hockey to a much more competitive and effective level. It is very difficult to do that if change is not part of the thinking process,” said Walsh, a world champion with Australia in 1986.
He also alleged Batra and HI CEO Elena Norman of adopting vengeful attitude towards him by not giving him financial benefits provided to the players and support staffs after India’s successful campaign as Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Asian Games last year.
“To reflect how spiteful the HI President and CEO (Norman) became they didn’t include me in the financial benefits provided to the players and staff for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games successes, albeit the Technical Director was.
“Now that could easily be construed as financial impropriety from Hockey India,” he said.
“Maybe they could consider providing those funds to Jude Felix’s orphanage hockey school in Bangalore.
“The good part is that now I sleep very well at night about this whole issue. The integrity of the game of hockey and all that surrounds it is paramount in my view and that should never be jeopardised no matter where, when or how you are involved with our game,” Walsh added.
Asked whether he is still open to return to India if opportunity comes forward, he replied in the negative.
“Had Hockey India recognised that their information and associated actions were inaccurate and offered some platform to move forward, yes there would have been a significant opportunity. But when requests to create discussion are rejected without response from the CEO and President of Hockey India it makes any opportunity very difficult,” signed off Walsh, who is all set to take charge as the Malaysia’s Technical Director.