Just a few days before the national team was to gather in Bengaluru on October 4 to prepare for the Asian Games, drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh and defender Birendra Lakha announced their retirement from international hockey paving the way for youngsters to play at the global events, as they stated while annunciating their pullback.
To your knowledge, Asian Games are due next year and it is the direct qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
In the Tokyo Olympics this year, India clinched a medal after a long wait of 41 years. The gleam of the Bronze victory hasn’t worn off yet and the news of the withdrawal of players, who contributed to this path-breaking achievement, caught everyone’s attention.
Staunch Rupinder Pal Singh has played 223 matches so far while stalwart Birendra Lakra played 200 matches, the last being in Tokyo, stressed on “time to allow the next generation of players to experience this great feeling for India” before leaving the stage for newcomers.
Evidently, the timing of such an announcement and gathering for the national team was not coincidental. Inside sources revealed that Rupinder, Lakra, and Sunil were all interested to carry on and expecting to “at least play till the 2022 Asian Games”, but the think-tank planned something different.
The alteration ritual after Olympics
It is not new to anyone that most of the nations opt for the “churn and change” policy after every Olympics cycle concentrating firmly on the players who can last the next four years. Fresh legs are called up and trained to get them going for the pinnacle of it all – the Olympics. And with India’s marvellous triumph at Tokyo, hopes are sky-high.
India has a glorious past at the Olympics, clinching a total of eight golds but failed to fetch any since 1980. Hence, it is understood why the federation, coaches and players don’t want to take a chance tasting victory after a wait of four decades.
Past one week the think-tank and the coaches held exclusive meetings with most of these players in New Delhi, and the players were informed that they were “no longer a part of the scheme of things for now, or even the future”, keeping in mind the next Olympics cycle. It was the termination point for them.
The players had two options, either to wait and watch until they got picked- which was unlikely- or sign off from the game. They chose the dignified way and retired than being dropped from the core group of next in the preference line.
However, retirements in hockey are infrequent. As a matter of fact, there are many players who haven’t announced their retirement until the present. But hockey too had to follow the trend par other sports and there are many dropped players waiting for their turn to get picked as the years passed by.
The last week’s incidents remind us of 2018 when famed midfielder and former captain Sardar Singh became India’s first top player in the recent past to officially announce his retirement.
It was September 2018, the national team had just landed in the country from their bronze-medal finish at the Jakarta Asian Games. The World Cup was due in just a few months at home. They had missed a direct opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Games and also failed to defend their Asiad title, which had not gone down well with the think tank.
It is conceived that Sardar, who was not in the best of forms at that time, “was told that his services were no longer required”, leading to the hockey renowned’s exit from the game.
The list doesn’t end here, former midfielder Viren Rasquinha was possibly the first international player of modern times to proclaim his retirement hardly days after being omitted from the 2006 Doha Asian Games squad. In 2010, the legendary Dilip Tirkey quit after having represented India in a total of 412 matches, a record that still is unbroken.
India will miss its stars, but probably it was a decision best taken in the interest of the sport.