Pune:The crisis in Indian hockey on Tuesday deepened with the striking players walking out of an inconclusive meeting with Hockey India officials, prompting the establishment to serve a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to the players to resume training or get axed from the World Cup squad.
While HI said it did not have the required money to pay the players, who are demanding Rs 4.5 lakh each apart from a graded contract system, the campers were in no mood to relent at the meeting which ended with no immediate signs of an early settlement to the payment dispute.
HI president AK Mattoo said it was a sad development that the players chose money over national colours at a time when the February 28- March 13 mega event is knocking at the door.
"Any player who is in the complex has to train but it seems for them (players) money is more important than playing for the country," Mattoo told a press conference.
"No one has been thrown out of the camp. The players have been given 48 hours time to resume training. If they decide not to attend the camp within 48 hours then the camp will be shut," he said.
Mattoo said a new set of players will represent India in the forthcoming World Cup if the revolting players did not report to the camp within the stipulated deadline.
"We are not saying that we are sacking or suspending them but they will not be able to take part in the World Cup," the HI chief said.
"I am not suspending the camp, I am closing the camp for the time being and restart it after some days.
"India will participate in the World Cup irrespective of the fact that whether they play or not. We will look for fresh players from across the country and train them under Jose Brasa and Harender Singh to make them fit for the World Cup.
The technical people will look into this matter," he added.
He said that the players refused to budge from their stand despite the assurance that their grievances would be looked into after the HI elections scheduled for February 7.
"I told the players that I have 'X' amount of money in my hand. If I give it to you, I have to give it to the women's as well as junior team. I told them their all demands we will take it forward to new body and see what we can do best for them," Mattoo said.
"We pleaded with them. Tony (FIH vice president Antonio von Ondarza) even told them nowhere in the world a player plays for money but unfortunately our pleads were not heard," Mattoo said.
"They said unless their demands were met they will not train. Its not done anywhere. I told them you get into the field and we will see what we can do for them now and for their future as well.
"There is no question of salary. They are not paid employees of HI. We offered them Rs 25,000 each, which we can afford right now but they refused. I have invested so much time and effort on these boys, so I would like to see them play in the World Cup," he added.
Mattoo also said that as per promise HI would be giving away Rs 25,000 each to players of women's team and Rs 15,000 to the junior side.
International Hockey Federation (FIH) vice president Antonio von Ondarza expressed shock over the development and said with just six weeks left for the World Cup, the players should concentrate on training instead of indulging in pressure tactics.
"I came to India to finalise the alleged discrepancies in Hockey India's election process and I'm happy to say that we were able to solve that yesterday. The news of players' strike shocked me. HI officials asked if I would be interested to talk to the players and I said 'why not?".
"I heard allegation from both sides. It's really a very sad story. If you come to a negotiations and refuse to move, it's not going to succeed," Ondarza said.
"Hockey India has just come into being and it's an interim body. How can it commit for future? That would be a fraud thing to do. With just 10 weeks to go before the World Cup, players should not put pressure on HI. They should concentrate on their training," he added.
Ondarza, who is also the FIH-appointed observer for HI polls, said it was sad to learn that the present set of Indian players prefer money over the nation.
"They went out of the meEting and when they returned, I asked what is more important for them, the national shirt or the money. They said money was more important to them. It's very sad. I myself have played the game and representing the country was above everything else for us," he said.
The FIH vice president said that hockey is not a cash-rich sport like cricket or football and with time it will grow in stature.
"The players have to remember that hockey is not like cricket, basketball or soccer where dollars roll in. I explained them that situation is improving and we have a new product," Ondarza said.
"This is an unfortunate scenario but I'm hopeful that India would field a strong team in the World Cup. It was not right on the players' part to come out all guns blazing against HI. HI can't do any thing more than it has promised", he said.
"India must be having more than 22 players. Even if some of the best players are not ready to play and don't feel obliged to don the national shirt, you have to find youngsters who would be keen for the honour. They may not win medals but at least they can be competitive. Whatever team represents India has to play their heart out, he said.
The players are indefinitely boycotting the World Cup preparatory camp demanding their match dues, incentives, a graded payment structure among other things.
The standoff is likely to have a bearing on the preparation for the World Cup to be held in Delhi from February 28 to March 13.