The World Series Hockey (WSH) on Tuesday suffered a big blow with Team India players, including Sardar Singh and star drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, likely to skip the inaugural cash-rich tournament that begins here on Wednesday.
Chandigarh Comets take on Bhopal Badshahs in the inaugural match on Wednesday and coaches of both the teams lamented that the "standoff" between Hockey India (HI) and Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) was not helping the cause of players and the sport.
Addressing separate news conferences at the Sector 42 hockey stadium here on Tuesday, the coaches of the two teams said players were mature enough and they must take their own call to participate or not in the over month-long WSH tournament.
Comets' coach Harendra Singh said he had tried to talk to his players P R Sreejesh, Sarvanjit Singh and Birendra Lakra, but so far had received no reply from them regarding their participation.
"The India players have not reported to the camp yet. Bringing players is not in my domain. I will proceed with whatever I have and that's my job as a coach," he said.
Harendra tried to put up a brave face when asked if the absence of star players would take the sheen away from the tournament.
"I will still like to take positive out of it. It will help bring to light some new talent, which in the long run will be good for Indian hockey," he said, adding that despite the controversies "the show must go on".
Asked about skipper Rehan Butt, who leads Chandigarh Comets, Harendra claimed he will be reaching Chandigarh from Pakistan on Wednesday, but his participation also remains doubtful considering the tournament also kicks-off on the same day.
Bhopal Badshahs coach Bhaskaran also admiited that he was not sure of the participation of national players including star India player Sardar Singh and Shivendra Singh.
Team India players, who helped the country seal their berth for the London Olympics after winning the Hockey qualifiers, fear facing bans from the International Hockey Federation (FIH), which is currently working for a solution to the long impasse between the HI and IHF.
The FIH has made it clear that though they are not in favour of bans, it cannot sanction the lucrative league until the two warring factions - HI and IHF - reach an agreement.
HI has also made matters worse for the players as a day after India booked a place for the Olympics, they announced a list of 48 probables for Games, who are scheduled to take part in a national camp from March 5 in Bangalore.
Addressing the media, Bhaskaran claimed that just a month back Sports Minister Ajay Maken had given him and 30 other Olympians, who had a meeting with him, assurance that no training camp will be kept during the WSH, which has already been postponed in December for the Olympic qualifiers.
"But what is happening now is completely the opposite," Bhaskaran said.
Nimbus Sport COO Yannick Colaco, meanwhile, assured the participation of the India players and said: "Players have taken a break after their good show at the qualifiers but they have personally confirmed to me that they will participate in the WHS."
Both the coaches maintained that the participation of key Indian players would have only helped the cause of the players and the team as WSH would have provided them the ideal platform before the London Olympics.
"It would have been wonderful opportunity for everyone. After the Olympic qualifiers, it would have given the right signal and further helped promote the game," Harendra said.
"Who is most important, it is the players. Let the show go on. If two warring factions sit together and sort out the issues, it will be good for the sport."
Bhaskaran said WSH would help scout talent.
"If we did not have IPL, nobody would have found Ravinder Jadeja, Suresh Raina and some other players. (WSH) franchisees have put in a lot of money," he said indicating the worry on their part was only natural if India players are "arm twisted" in not taking part.
"WSH should be seen as a tournament which would have entertained players besides helping them to keep themselves physically and mentally fit," Bhaskaran said.
He said the onus was on the players to take a call.
"You cannot arm twist Sachin (Tendulkar). To play or not to play will be his decision," he said.