"This is a reflection of our sacrifices and work" — Coach Graham Reid on FIH awards recognition
India swept the International Hockey Federation's annual awards, claiming all the top honours based on a voting system
Indian men's hockey team chief coach Graham Reid on Thursday steered clear of the controversy surrounding the FIH annual awards, saying the honour which he and his players received was a recognition of their sacrifices in the last one-and-half years.
India swept the International Hockey Federation's annual awards on Wednesday, claiming all the top honours based on a voting system which was lambasted as a "failure" by men's Olympic champions Belgium, prompting the FIH to say that it would try to figure why some associations did not cast their ballot. Five Indian players and the head coaches of both the men's and women's teams in Tokyo claimed the top honours across different categories after fetching the maximum votes.
The men's hockey team had won a bronze, it's first in 41 years, in the Tokyo Olympics, while the women's side had finished an unprecedented fourth in the showpiece.
Asked about the controversy that erupted, the Australian said: "Look, as coaches and players we have nothing do with how things are chosen or the system. We just go out there and play to our best. It is a recognition of the work put by this team, including the support staff. There is a lot of work gone into this. I see this as a reflection of the sacrifices and work put in for the last 16-18 months by this team during lockdown. I haven't seen my kids for 2 years. It is great to get some recognition for the group and it is also a reflection of hockey in India. It is a great thing for world hockey."
Harmanpreet Singh won the men's 'Player of the Year' award and Gurjit Kaur was recognized as the best player in the women's section. Veteran P R Sreejesh and Savita Punia won the best goalkeeper awards in the men's and women's section, while young striker Sharmila Devi (women) and Vivek Sagar Prasad (men) were adjudged best rising stars.
Reid also refused to be drawn into the debate whether India should have participated in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, only stating that next year's Asian Games hockey competition is of paramount importance to the country in terms of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"We have Asian Champions Trophy from 24th December. In new year, we start with the FIH Pro League and after that we have Asian Games which is important for our qualification for the next Olympics in Paris.
"Hopefully, we will have time to prepare for that and then we have the World Cup, it will be a big 16-18 months for us," he said. The coach lauded the contributions of recently retired Rupinder Pal Singh, Birendra Lakra and SV Sunil, saying the trio had set an example for the rest of the world to follow. He said pumping in young blood was the need of the hour for Indian hockey, keeping future tournaments in mind.
"I think it is pretty normal after the Olympic Games. You have to look forward towards the youth, you need a good mixture of players and that is what we are tying to do, bring in youth alongside experienced players. It was nice to see these three guys make the announcements and that's what is always to be celebrated. It is fantastic to see the accolades that they got," Reid said.
He said the longevity of veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was a reflection of his ability to keep changing and getting better. "That is what we are looking forward to. The message is to get better," the coach said. Reid said with the Junior World Cup a month away, he will be working with the Indian youngsters in their preparations to defend the title.
"There is always pressure when you are the reigning champions. It is exciting to get this opportunity to see the young talent. They will get a lot of belief from how we performed in Tokyo. "I am working with them since I got back from Tokyo. I am happy that Sreejesh was also involved. This group will form part of future."
Reid said the bronze medal in Tokyo is a thing of the past now and the players need to refocus on their next goal. "Keep your ego at the door, that's what I told the boys on the first day of camp after Tokyo. Sometimes we can get carried away by what we read about ourselves or written about you. It is the refocus part which is difficult."
Veteran India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh emphasized the need to start afresh after Tokyo. "After winning a medal, refocussing is really tough. Being a senior player it is a first experience how the world is treating us but this is the nature of sport and there are always new challenges. It is important to get the focus back. When we rejoin in November we can be more focused for upcoming big events," he said.