India hockey captain Bharat Chettri has said the players could think of playing in the World Series Hockey (WSH) if the tournament is held after the Olympic qualifiers.
Chettri told IANS on return home from Johannesburg, where India finished runners-up to Belgium in the Champions Challenge, that with the qualifiers out of their way the players could concentrate better on the WSH. Importantly, they could play both the qualifiers and the league with a free mind, not worrying too much about the other.
"If the WSH is held after the Olympic qualifiers, I think the players will be able to play with a free mind," said Chettri.
"The Olympic qualifiers are important for us. Last time we did not qualify for the Beijing Games and there is a good chance of making it to London this time as the event is being held at home. Moreover, the expectations are high and we must ensure that we make the cut."
Chettri's careful words also raise a question over the timing of the WSH and the possibility of rescheduling the league for more than one reason.
For one, the WSH has signed up the entire Indian squad. The hitch is that the event, scheduled to start from December 17, not only clashes with the camp for the Olympic qualifiers from Dec 11 but also with the December 11-22 junior national championship at Balewadi Complex, Pune.
Hockey India (HI) has made it clear that attendance at the camp is a must and those skipping it will not be considered for the qualifiers.
HI for good measure obtained a letters signed by 12 players stating that they would be available for the national camp.
Asked about reports that HI forced the players to sign the letters, Chettri said: "Nobody can force us to sign any letter, the players know what they are doing."
A top official of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) said they have still not received any communication from the players about their unavailability.
"So far the players have not spoken to us. Their contract is with the WSH and not with HI. If they are not playing, they will have to communicate that to us."
He also raised doubts over the authenticity of the letters.
"In any case we do not believe HI. The text of both the letters are same. The two letters are dated Nov 29 while they were released to media on successive days. If they have signed on the same day why didn't HI get them on one letter."
"Also, HI has deliberately scheduled all events to clash with WSH. Come to think of it, this is the first junior national it is conducting. What has it been doing in the last three years," he said.
Meanwhile, HI reiterated that the dates of the national camp were decided long before the WSH finalised its dates.
"The dates of all national events are part of a long term development programme HI submitted to the department of sports," HI said in a statement on Tuesday.
HI produced the minutes of the meeting where the annual calendar was discussed with the sports ministry.