Experienced Indian hockey player Gurbaj Singh was on Monday, 10 August, suspended for nine months by Hockey India for allegedly indulging in groupism and creating disharmony within the team. The decision comes as a major blow to Gurbaj's chances of playing in next year's Rio Olympics.
The decision to suspend Gurbaj was taken after a meeting of Hockey India's disciplinary committee headed by Harbinder Singh on Monday with the midfielder and former India coach Jude Felix, who levelled the charges against him in his report after last month's Hockey World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium.
Besides Harbinder, the HI disciplinary panel also include former players R P Singh, A B Subbaiah and Jasjeet Handa.
Gurbaj, however, has the option to lodge an appeal with HI's appellate tribunal within a month's time.
Talking to PTI, Harbinder later said it was time to teach a lesson to Gurbaj, dubbed as problem child in Indian hockey, for his repeated misdemeanours.
"We have suspended Gurbaj for nine months starting on Monday, which means he will be unable to play for India till May 9, 2016. The step was taken after Jude Felix in his (HWL) report had brought up disciplinary issues against Gurbaj," Harbinder said.
"Both Gurbaj and Jude were present in the meeting and the committee gave Gurbaj a chance to tell his version.
"But obviously, he (Gurbaj) can appeal against the suspension," he said.
Felix in his report, also alleged that Gurbaj did not co-operate with the coaches and was not a good ambassador for the national team.
A talented midfielder and considered as a workhorse, Gurbaj has been in news for wrong reasons in the past as well.
He was suspended for a brief period after the London Olympics following similar accusations from the then chief coach Michael Nobbs and his support staff.
Harbinder hailed Gurbaj as a key player for India but said discipline is something which cannot be compromised upon.
"He is a very good player but discipline is a must. Such charges were levelled against him after the London Olympics by Nobbs and other coaches. That time he was let off after he promised he will improve his behaviour," he said.
The suspension if not revoked means Gurbaj's chances of playing in the Rio Olympics is bleak but Harbinder begs to differ.
"The ban will end in May and if his appeal is upheld then he can return to the squad immediately. He is a very talented player and I don't think his Olympic dreams are over."
Gurbaj, on his part, had termed the punishment "harsh" and said irrespective of the suspension, he will keep his focus solely on the game.
He also said that he will appeal against the suspension after talking to his family members, fellow players and well wishers.
"I don't know why such a report was given against me. I didn't do anything. During today's meeting, I cleared my position. But the punishment is little harsh," Gurbaj told PTI.
"I have 30 days time to lodge my appeal and I will do that after discussing with concerned people. I am hopeful the suspension will be revoked," he said.
Asked if not revoked, whether the suspension marks end of his dream of playing in Rio Olympics, Gurbaj said: "I don't think so. My focus has always been playing hockey and I will keep that going."