India suffers 'national disaster' after Olympic field hockey qualifying failure

NEW DELHI -- Eight-time Olympic field hockey champion India won't be at the Beijing Games, the first time in 80 years it failed to qualify for the competition.

India's hopes of making the Olympics ended Sunday with a 2-0 loss to Britain in the final of a qualifying event in Chile, prompting criticism from former players at the way the sport is governed in the country.

Ashok Kumar, a former captain and member of the 1975 World Cup-winning squad, called the failure to qualify a "huge national disaster."

"This decline did not happen in one day," Kumar said. "The hockey federation just did not seem interested in noticing and arresting the decline."

Field hockey is still considered India's national game despite cricket's immense popularity. The nation won six consecutive Olympic gold medals in the sport, beginning in 1928. But India has slumped in the world rankings since winning the 1975 World Cup and the last of its eight Olympic gold medals at the boycott-marred Moscow Games in 1980.

Indian teams have briefly shown glimpses of its once dazzling stick work, but it has not qualified for the semifinals of eight straight World Cups and six consecutive Olympics.

"It's a sad day for Indian hockey, but people should have seen it coming," Pargat Singh, who captained India at two Olympics, told The Associated Press. "The Indian Hockey Federation, the national Olympic association and the sports ministry are all responsible for the state of affairs."

Singh said the country had few players of international quality, and "the pool is further dwindling with the game not being promoted at the grass roots."

India did not win a medal at the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, the first time the two-time Asian Games gold medalists have failed to win a medal at the continental games. The country was forced to compete in one of the three qualifiers from which one team each will make the Olympics.

"We do not have a machine that you can get results instantly," Indian Hockey Federation chief K.P.S. Gill Gill told the Press Trust of India. "We've put the process in place and the results will take some time.

"It is not proper to respond at this stage. We'll wait for the team to return first, then we will have a clear idea what went wrong."