Hockey India (HI) has put the onus on the players to decide whether to represent India in the Olympic qualifiers or to play in the $2 million World Series Hockey (WSH).
HI secretary general Narinder Batra said on Wednesday that the national camp for the February 15-26 Olympic qualifiers is expected to kick off here in the second week of December and will go on till January 26.
The national camp is bound to clash with the WSH to be played Dec 17-Jan 26 and HI has already made it clear that it is mandatory for all players to attend the camp.
WSH, which is not a sanctioned league of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), has signed up quite a few India players, including Arjun Halappa, Sardara Singh, Adrian D'Souza and Prabhjot Singh who will all be leading various city-based franchises.
"If any player skips the national camp, we will be left with no option but to induct juniors for the Olympic qualifiers. It is for the players to make the choice," Batra told IANS.
Batra's statement is short of a formal warning to players, though he said he was only clarifying the position.
"We cannot stop the players from playing wherever they want to. They all know that they would be playing in an event not sanctioned by the FIH and it is for them to decide what is in their best interests."
Batra said the dates of the national camp were finalised long back and it was not that they were fixed all of a sudden.
In fact, it was the WSH that deliberately chose the dates to clash with the national camp, he said.
"It is not that we are announcing the dates of the national camp now, we had submitted our programme months in advance to the sports ministry for approval. The tentative date given for the camp to start was between Dec 11-15.
"We know that the players will be at a loss if they do not play in the WSH. We are, in fact, in touch with some corporates to announce cash rewards for players of the team if they qualify for the Olympics. That can happen only if they play and qualify for the London Olympics."
India have been pooled along with Canada, France, Poland, Egypt and the United States in the Delhi leg of the qualifiers. Eight-times Olympic gold medallist India failed to qualify for the Beijing Games.
Chief coach Michael Nobbs has expressed his concern over players training under different coaches in the WSH before the qualifiers, saying it could hurt India's chances of making it to London.
The players are on tenterhooks as they need to get a 'No-Objection Certificate' from their respective employers, mainly government institutions. Their worry is whether they will be allowed to participate in an unsanctioned league when the national camp is on.
The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has already warned its players against playing in the WSH. There are nine top Pakistani players who had signed up with WSH and they are all in a quandary after PHF's tough stance.
IHF president R.K.Shetty, however, put up a brave face and said he is not perturbed by the development.
He said no Indian player has so far shown any apprehensions about playing in the league.
"We scheduled it at a time when India do not have any international commitments. We are not doing any harm to anyone by organising the WSH. It is only for the good of the sport," Shetty told IANS.
When asked about the national camp clashing with the league, Shetty said: "In a communication to the players sometime back, HI had said that all players should be ready for the qualifiers by Jan 26. Now suddenly they will schedule everything. They never bothered to organise national tournaments all these years and it was IHF who conducted them last year."