India’s cherished Olympic aspirations for hockey are likely to remain a pipe dream, if the treatment meted to the Under-19 Mumbai National Team for the sport is anything to go by. Returning on Friday after a gruelling stint at the Junior National Championships in Sonepat, Haryana, 15 players were forced to travel with unreserved tickets, as the Mumbai Hockey Association (MHA) had not booked their berths on the train.
In course of the 18-hour-long ordeal, the members of the team, already exhausted from the matches, had to stand for hours. Shunted from one part of the train to another, they had to squeeze into the pantry car, and subsequently station themselves near the reeking train toilets.
Meanwhile, their coach returned via flight, while their manager wangled a sleeper berth for himself. The team boarded the train to return home after participating in the Junior National Championships, in which they played three matches, held on June 3, 4 and 6. The team won a match and lost two.
Nowhere to go
Since they did not have access to accommodation, the team decided against staying back and trying for tickets in a later train. Most of the players couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel stay. Moreover, they were given no guarantee that they’d get seats on another train. Left with no other option, the athletes decided to rough it out in the unreserved compartment of Paschim Express. Though food was provided to them, sleep was a luxury they could ill afford.
Anup Valmiki (18), the team captain said, “I’ve travelled for six or seven hockey camps, but this was the worst ordeal we suffered. There wasn’t even enough place to stand in the general compartment. We met the TC and he promised he’d try and arrange seats for us. By evening, we were made to sit in the pantry car. At 10 pm, the pantry workers shuttered the coach and told us to leave. Most of the players were scattered all over the train. We later moved near the toilets of the AC sleeper coach, but the AC attendant chased us off.”
Vinay, Anup’s 16-year-old younger brother, said, “I didn’t sleep a wink. The whole team was standing outside the toilets. Five boys were in S1, five in S2 and five in S5. Now that I’m home, I’m going to sleep,” he said on the phone from his home in Churchgate. Vinay’s teammate Moses Pullanthara (17) chimed in, “It was bad. We couldn’t sleep all night.”
A fellow passenger who did not wish to be named, said, “The condition in which these boys travelled was terrible. A few of them had to sleep in the pantry, and some near the toilet. We took pity on them and let them sleep on some unoccupied bunks for a while. I’m surprised at the treatment given to a national team.”
Same old story
Cornell Fernandes, the team’s manager, said, “The MHA did not book our tickets for the return journey, so we had to board the train using unreserved compartment tickets. I too didn’t have a reserved ticket, but after paying the Rs 1,500 fine, I got a berth to sleep in. Obviously, I couldn’t afford to pay for a berth for each player. I’ve been playing hockey for 15 years and little has changed since then. This is the state of the sport.”
Significantly, team coach Alex D’Souza returned to Mumbai via a flight from Delhi. “Our tickets were waitlisted as it is the peak season. We tried to get tickets at the station but the train was full. We requested MHA to arrange for VIP tickets, and I too tried to arrange for tickets, but to no avail. I was travelling with the team but had to get off at Delhi as my mother was ill. I then took a flight. Things haven’t changed in over 20 years. When I used to play at the national level, the situation was the same. We would sleep in the gangways and near the toilets.”
The other side
Speaking to MiD DAY, president of the MHA Mangha Singh Bakshi said, “We had purchased tickets for their trip from Mumbai, but I don’t know whether they were confirmed. Perhaps they did not get tickets due to the holidays. I don’t know the status of the return tickets so I cannot comment on that.”
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