New Delhi: Indian field hockey squad ended a week-long strike on Wednesday and agreed to resume training for the World Cup starting next month after top sports officials stepped in to settle a pay dispute.
“The camp will start again from Thursday. The crisis is over,” Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi told reporters after meeting the players at their training camp in Pune.
“Hockey is our national game, it cannot be a national shame. I am grateful for everyone who came forward to resolve the crisis.”
Kalmadi said the 22-man squad’s demand of Rs450,000 ($10,000) each for outstanding dues and performance-related bonuses, besides graded contracts, had been accepted.
“We will immediately distribute around Rs10 million (around $200,000) to settle the players’ dues,” he said.
“The graded contracts will be done after the Hockey India elections on 7 February.”
On Tuesday Hockey India’s interim president Ashok Mattoo had said his federation did not have sufficient funds to meet the players’ demands and gave the squad a 48-hour deadline to return to training.
But as the row snowballed into a major controversy, Team India sponsors Sahara on Wednesday released an ad hoc amount of Rs10 million to tide over the crisis.
Sahara’s move followed an appeal to the players by federal sports minister Manohar Singh Gill to resume training, with a promise to look into their grievances.
“I wish to appeal to the players to immediately join training and focus on winning the tournament,” Gill said earlier on Wednesday.
“I am clear that after the tournament I will do everything possible to give the players a fair deal.”
Deepak Thakur, a senior member of the squad, confirmed the players will resume their World Cup preparations from Thursday.
“Mr Kalmadi has assured us that all our demands will be met and we are taking his word for it,” Thakur told reporters.
“We have been told that our dues will be settled immediately and issues like graded contracts will be done after the elections — but before the World Cup.”
The 12-nation tournament will be played at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi from 28 February to 13 March.
India, once the masters of the game with eight Olympic titles, failed to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008 and earned a direct World Cup berth only by virtue of being the hosts.
They won the Sultan Azlan Shah invitation tournament in Malaysia last year and finished third behind New Zealand and Pakistan in the Champions Challenge event in Argentina.