The rape allegation against defender Varun Kumar is a distraction for the men’s hockey team and his absence from the FIH Pro League will be treated as an injury setback, India chief coach Craig Fulton said on Friday. Varun, an Arjuna award recipient, withdrew himself from the tournament after being accused of rape. He is exploring legal options to tackle the allegation, which he described as a “calculated attempt to extort money” from him. India are scheduled to take on Spain in the tournament-opener on Saturday.
“If you take it from outside and, of course, it’s a challenging situation but at the same time, you’ve got a level of professionalism and then from a start point of view we have to have our plans in place,” said Fulton during a pre-event press conference.
“So, if you took it as an injury, someone now is injured. What would you do? What are the plans in place in the event of an injury? So, Varun is not here. What is the plan? There always is a plan for anyone that gets injured for a long time… (be it) striker, mid-field or defence.
“So we’re going on the level of professionalism we have in the group, the values that we hold. It’s a distraction, it’s challenging, it’s not great but we have to move forward, we have a plan in place on how we go,” the coach said.
India skipper Harmanpreet Singh hoped that Varun will get an opportunity to play in other tournaments later.
“He is in the list of 29 (probables). The coach has said it earlier that he will keep changing the team, so definitely he (Varun) can play also and definitely he will be with us also,” said Harmanpreet.
On whether someone like former Indian cricket team mental trainer Paddy Upton would have come in handy at this juncture, Fulton said the team was good enough to “stay to our task” and “upholding our values”.
Upton had helped the Indian men’s hockey team ahead of the Asian Champions Trophy and the Asian Games.
“Unfortunately, Paddy is not here with this group. We had time with him in Cape Town. Now, it’s up to us staying to our task and what we are trying to do as a team and upholding our values. We, really look forward to playing at home.” The coach also said the home stretch of the tournament was the best opportunity to confirm the squad for the Paris Olympics, especially after the debacle in the five-nations tournament in Valencia, where they won just one game and lost three.
The tour of South Africa in January too was a mixed bag with India finishing with two wins, a draw and a crushing 1-5 loss to world No.1 Netherlands.
On whether Indian team was looking to improve in specific areas in a series of eight Pro League matches at home, Fulton said, “It is kind of home stretch but it’s also about us confirming our Olympic squad.
“In Valencia, we didn’t have a training block before hand because of the National Games and the National Championships, but SA (tour) was definitely in the right direction,” said Fulton.
He added that the Pro League matches in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela against Spain, Netherland, Australia and Ireland will give him the opportunity to assess everyone.
“We are trying to give everyone an opportunity in both competitions and then confirm our Olympic squad. That’s really an important phase for us now. Then obviously to keep developing our game, our combinations within that.
He said that there could be losses and disappointments along the way but he would be looking at consistency and team effort while confirming the Olympic squad.
“We want to be as close to performing as we can in every game and that’s not always going to be the case. So, it’s time to confirm our squad and at the same time getting some performances together and getting some consistency,” he said.
Harman too said the last set of home matches were crucial for selecting the Olympic squad.
“These are the last series of matches in India ahead of the Olympics. So, this is a good chance for us to try and improve further. We play some good matches here, so we have to see how we utilise this opportunity and how to prepare of the Olympic Games,” said the former drag flicker.
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