An unseemly brawl between players spoiled the final of the 56th Nehru Senior Hockey Tournament between Punjab Police and Punjab National Bank on Monday. Trouble erupted towards the end of the third period with the teams locked 3-3. The trigger was a tackle against a PNB forward. This incident resulted in tempers getting frayed and players chasing each other around the turf wielding their sticks as lathis.
“It all started with a tackle that PNB players took exception to and there was a scuffle which lasted 5-7 minutes,” an eyewitness said.
Eventually, the match restarted after three Punjab Police players – Hardeep Singh, Jagmeet Singh and Kanwarjeet Singh – and two from PNB – Sukhjeet Singh and Sumit Toppo – were shown red cards.
Punjab Police manager Balwant Singh was also given marching orders. Toppo was himself badly injured in the head after being hit with a hockey stick.
PNB capitalised on their numerical advantage in the final quarter, scoring three goals in eight minutes to secure a 6-3 victory and a cash prize of Rs two lakh.
The losing finalists got half that amount. Abhishek scored a hat-trick for the winners.
One of the umpires for the game, Raghu Prasad, is one of the top match officials of the International Hockey Federation (FIH).
He took charge of matches at last year's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar and will do so at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well.
Punjab Police had in their ranks former India internationals Gurbaj Singh and Sarvanjit Singh.
According to the eyewitness, they were pacifying the players and trying to help the umpires bring the situation under control.
“The players got hyper in the match and there was a fight between the players of the two teams. Players from both teams were at fault as they lost their temper. Such incidents bring disrepute to the sport. We should make sure that this issue does not become big now,” Gurbaj told The Indian Express.
A PNB player, speaking on condition of anonymity, gave further details.
“It was when a PNB player was approaching the Punjab Police penalty area that the umpire declared a foul. Punjab Police players objected and the PNB player pushed Punjab Police defenders after which the latter started the fight. One of the Punjab Police players hit a PNB counterpart on the head with a hockey stick and the player sat down holding his head. Later also, Punjab Police players on the bench and officials entered the field, running after PNB players and thrashing them,” he said.
A few players were also taken to hospital. Repeated attempts to contact Tournament Director Mahesh Kumar were futile.
Both teams have been suspended from the tournament – Punjab Police for four years and PNB for two.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Hockey Tournament Society (JNHTS) will also write to the concerned authorities in the two organisations, informing them of the actions of their teams, the suspension from participation, and requesting suitable action at their end against the errant players.
Hockey India is also expected to take a hard stand on the matter. “We had a meeting of captains and coaches after the final and they will submit their report to Hockey India,” Gurbaj said.
Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra, who is also the FIH chief and a former head of Hockey India, called for strict action against the offenders.
“Such irresponsible teams and their careless and uncensored managements, such players and weak and spineless organising committees spoil the name of the game and bring bad reputation to the sport. I urge Hockey India to take maximum strict action,” he said.
Now a lot will depend on the report the JNHTS sends to the governing body of the sports in the country. “We are waiting for the official report from the tournament officials and on its basis Hockey India will take necessary action,” HI CEO Elena Norman said.