Free Press Journal

Van Ass saga leaves current and former Olympians shocked


Paul Van Ass

New Delhi: Former and current India players feel that Paul van Ass’ “firing” as Indian men’s hockey team’s chief coach barely five months into the job could prove to be detrimental to its preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Van Ass’s future with the Indian team was in serious doubt after he failed to report on time for the national team’s camp that began at the scenic Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Shilaroo, Himachal Pradesh yesterday.

The theory that the Dutchman won’t be continuing as the coach gathered further steam when he failed to submit his report on India’s performance at the recently concluded World Hockey League semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium.

According to media reports, temperamental Van Ass had a public spat with Hockey India president Narinder Batra after the quarter-final match against Malaysia at the World League semifinals.

A senior member of the national team said at the end of the day it is the players who suffer the most in the fr quent change of coaches. “It (Change of coaches) definitely affects us. It affects our training, our performance, our preparation (for Rio Olympics). It takes time for players to build rapport with a coach. It takes time to understand and then adapt to a coach’s style. So, if the chief coach is changed frequently it is bound to affect our performance,” a senior member of the national team told PTI.

“Under Terry Walsh, we had trained for nearly one-and-half years. We got settled and got used to his style of hockey, our performance started to get better. We also qualified for the Olympics under Walsh but then he suddenly left (for some reasons). Then Van Ass came on board and we started training under him. It’s been hardly 4-5 months now and there are reports that Van Ass’ is not coming and we are back to square again.

“The Olympics is just a year away and this sort of uncertainty is only going to hamper our preparation,” he said. The player said Van Ass has not communicated anything either to the coaching staff or the players. “He (Van Ass) has not communicated to us. We were in total dark about him,” he said.

The ongoing camp at Shimla will continue till July 3. Former international hockey player and son of legendary Dhyan Chand, Ashok Kumar said it is an unfortunate situation which the national team find itself now but feels Hockey India needs to believe in a coach. “Not doubt our Olympic preparation is in jeopardy after this development. People now have their own ego in hockey and can’t tolerate criticism. Nowadays, we don’t debate on our performance in public forum, which used to be the case earlier. So people can’t take criticism,” he said.

“What I feel is that HI needs to believe in a coach and not put question mark. There is short time left for the Olympics, we must believe in the coach,” said Kumar, a member of India’s bronze medal winning side in 1972 Munich Olympics.

Captain of India’s 1975 World Cup winning side in Kuala Lumpur, Ajit Pal Singh, however, feels Van Ass’s is accountable to his employers. Ajit Pal said Van Ass’s has contractual obligations. “It (coach) should have been a continuous process. After Walsh Van Ass took charge of the team. If we keen changing the horse frequently in between it will definitely affect us,” he said.

“Van Ass’s has signed a contract, he is not in India for holiday,” he said. Ajit Pal said High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans now should be given the charge of the team till the Olympics instead of appointing another chief coach.

“Time is very short and to my opinion the team should now be handed over to Oltmans. Oltmans has been in India for a long time and he has good knowledge of Indian hockey,” he said.

Incidentally, it is not the first time that a foreign coach of the Indian men’s hockey team will leave the country on a sour note. Van Ass’s predecessors Jose Brasa, Michael Nobbs and Terry Walsh — all of whom were hired by SAI on the recommendations of HI at hefty salaries — left the country on an unceremonious note.

Van Ass, who was appointed at the end of January this year, was awarded a three-year contract till 2018. India will host the 2018 men’s Hockey World Cup.

The World League semifinals in Antwerp, earlier this month, was Van Ass’s only second assignment with the Indian team.