COIMBATORE: Days after India ended their World League Semifinal campaign in London in June, Hockey India’s High Performance and Development Committee decided to initiate a review.
The team had finished sixth, deemed unacceptable by most members of the committee. With important tournaments coming up, they decided to bring the important parts — captain and immediate predecessors (Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh, PR Sreejesh), chief coach Roelant Oltmans, select support staff and some former players — under one roof for a three-day meeting in New Delhi. “It is to see whether all of us are on the same page,” as High Performance Director David John told Express last week.
They were not on the same page. So HI decided to let go off Oltmans on Saturday. “There’s a certain line coaches can’t cross in terms of lack of performance. We felt Oltmans had crossed that line so we had to ask him to leave,” HI’s selection committee chairman, Harbinder Singh, said. It was believed that Oltmans would be given a rap on the knuckles and asked to deliver at Asia Cup and World League Final. However, it was learnt his answers in the interview did not impress the committee. According to one HI representative, this was a gist of what transpired.
HI: Give us a realistic aim of what’s possible at the 2018 Commonwealth Games? Oltmans: Semifinals. Answers such as these didn’t impress the panel. They wanted the 62-year-old to show more ambition. “Forget that answer,” the HI representative said. “Answers he gave to newspapers before the 2016 Olympics didn’t impress us. He said the team might finish between sixth and ninth. What defeatist message are you sending if that’s your level of ambition?”
Actually, Oltmans was just being honest. With Australia, England and New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games, semifinals would have been the realistic option. He made a presentation on the first day of the meeting about how to take the team forward but by then a few committee members had already made up their minds. After he struggled to explain the team’s inability to beat Canada and Malaysia consistently, even the ones wanting to give him time were convinced. “It was a unanimous decision,” Olympian BP Govinda, who attended the meeting, said.
Oltmans, who helped India win a first FIH medal for 33 years, liked the word ‘process’. It was his go-to word. “This is a results business. How can he keep using the word ‘process’?” an influential HI representative asked. “When process can’t beat Canada and Malaysia, how can we expect it to beat Australia and Germany?”
There is more than a grain of truth in that statement and with the prospect of a World League Final and a World Cup coming up in 14 months, he was given the boot.
Viren Rasquinha summed up the sentiment among the fraternity in a tweet. “Rach, Charlesworth, Brasa, Nobbs, Walsh, Van Ass and now Oltmans,” he posted. “Soon we can write A to Z of foreigners sacked as India hockey coach/TD.”
John interim coach
John will be interim coach till a replacement is found. “Hockey India and SAI will decide that (permanent coach). An ad will be put up,” Harbinder said. Former captain V Baskaran, who also attended the meeting in New Delhi, will be coach of the development squad in Bengaluru. “HI confirmed it today,” Baskaran said. “I will shift to Bengaluru shortly.”