The multi-million dollar World Series Hockey received a big jolt just days before its start with six top Indian players withdrawing from the league to be held across different cities of the country from December 17.
In a letter addressed to Hockey India Secretary General Narinder Batra, goalkeepers Bharat Chetri and PR Sreejesh, star dragflicker Sandeep Singh, defender Sardar Singh, and forwards Tushar Khandker and Yuvraj Walmiki have preferred country over the unsanctioned league, the dates of which clash with the national camp for the Olympic qualifiers.
"We are not playing in the World Series Hockey event and that we will be attending the national camp in Delhi for the Olympic qualifiers on December 11, 2011 until February 2012. We will be available for selection in the national team for the Olympic qualifiers," said a letter issued by HI, which bears the signature of all the six players.
"We signed the contract with World Series Hockey under the impression that WSH will not force us to play and ask us to leave for the national camp," said the players, who are presently playing the Champions Challenge I tournament in South Africa. We play for our country and that is a matter of honour and pride for us."
The players, however, did not completely rule out their participation in the league and have requested the WSH organisers to postpone the event.
"We appeal to World Series Hockey to postpone their tournament after the qualifiers in the national interest," they said in the letter.
The WSH organisers, however, said that they have not yet received any communication from the six players stating that they were pulling out of the tournament.
"As of now we have received zero withdrawl, including all the Pakistani players. We have not heard anything from the six players," chief operating officer of Nimbus Sport, Yannick Colaco told PTI.
"In fact, all the players have sent us the sizes and preferences for their kit."
Colaco accused Hockey India Secretary-General Narinder Batra of using pressure tactics on Indian players to stop them from participating in the league.
"HI and Mr Batra have been employing all methods to stop players from playing in WSH. In fact, a player told me that Batra is threatening them to withdraw from WSH or else they can't play for India," he alleged.
WSH is a multi city franchise-based league promoted jointly by Nimbus Sport and rival Indian Hockey Federation (IHF).
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) had already categorised WSH as an unsanctioned event and warned that any player participating in the league will be barred from representing their country.
Several national bodies, including HI and Pakistan Hockey Federation have also warned its players against participating in the USD 2 million event.