Olympian Leslie Claudius feels there is a connection between the decline of Indian hockey and the dwindling fortunes and numbers of the Anglo-Indian community. “Of course, the Sikh boys, the Adivasi boys and those from the North-East and Coorg are still coming through, but there are no Anglo-Indian boys at all,” says Claudius, 81, whose son Robert played at the national level and represented India at the World Cup in Mexico in 1978. Robert died in a road accident.
Claudius, who represented India from 1948 to 1960, finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Records, along with Udham Singh, for having the maximum number of Olympic medals—three golds and one silver. “Despite this, I had to wait for 11 years after my retirement in 1960 to get a Padmashree,” says Claudius, disappointed but not embittered. “I am told the Rs5,000 we get from the government of India will be doubled, but who knows.”
Leslie Claudius won medals in four consecutive Olympic Games. ( Photo by: Indranil Bhoumik / Mint)
Claudius says over the years, thousands of Anglo-Indians have left India for Australia, Canada and elsewhere. “This void will always be difficult to fill,” he says. His two sons are settled in Australia.
“Even the legendary Dhyan Chand used to admire the Anglo-Indian boys who would go anywhere, do anything, eat anything and yet, not complain,” says Claudius, sitting in his flat in an old-world apartment block, complete with a wooden staircase on McLeod Street. This thoroughfare, off Park Street, along with places such as Ripon Street and Free School Street, was at one time the heartland of Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian community.
A memento of the 1956 Olympic Games held in Australia, courtesy Leslie Claudius. (Photo by: Indranil Bhoumik / Mint)
“The people of Calcutta (now Kokata) still hold me in very high esteem,” says Claudius, who has no plans of relocating Down Under, though he visits his sons every couple of years.
The Olympian also feels that it is not fair to blame the administrators and the coaches for all that is wrong with Indian hockey. “In 1948, we didn’t even have a coach, while in the subsequent games, we had coaches, but they were quite hands-off,” says Claudius, who was manager of the team for the 1974 and 1978 Asian Games as well as the 1979 Esanda Cup, but was never considered fit to coach the Indian team. “They told me I needed an NIS (National Institute of Sports) diploma.”
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