Chief coach of Indian men's team Harendra Singh has complained to Hockey India about the sub-standard quality of food and hygiene level at the Sports of Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru, where the national team is currently training.
But the grievance isn’t a new one. Even when he was coaching the senior Indian women’s hockey team, Singh had made several complaints about the diet provided to players, but to no avail.
Less than two weeks before the Indian men leave for the Champions Trophy in the Netherlands, Harendra, in a letter dated 9 June, wrote to the top officials of Hockey India.
“I would like to bring to your kind notice that food quality at Bangalore SAI centre has been well below par with a professional unit – excessive oil and fat through out, bones with lack of meats. Moreover insects, bugs and hair were also found in the food,” he wrote.
“Sir, I also would like to inform you that hygiene part has also been neglected. The kitchen utensils which are used to prepare food are unhealthy.”
Even the coach’s request that mutton be added to the men’s meal plan at least once a week was not fulfilled.
“We are preparing for the upcoming Champions Trophy, Asian Games and World Cup. It is vital for these high performance athletes to have meals which consists of entire nutrition," he added.
Recently, we conducted blood tests on all 48 athletes, and the blood report found many food-related deficiencies in some athletes, which act as a hindrance to perform at the optimum level.Harendra Singh in a letter to Hockey India
The chief coach further wrote that the quality of food has been sub-standard despite Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's instructions during one of his visits before the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. The players had then also complained about the poor quality of mattresses, which had later been changed.
"Before the CWG, during one of the camps, Hon'ble Sports Minister had visited the camps and had given instructions to competent authority that within 48 hours these complaints must be addressed but no change is visible," Harendra wrote.
After writing to Hockey India, Coach Singh had forwarded his letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra, who wrote to the Sports Ministry to address the issue. After being informed by Hockey India, the IOA asked SAI to look into the matter as soon as possible.
IOA president Batra immediately wrote to SAI Director General Neelam Kapur, urging her to address the matter seriously.
"The Hon'ble Minister had visited SAI centre Bangalore couple of months back and he is aware of this situation concerning the athletes and their food issue, hygiene issues etc," Batra wrote.
"It is couple of months now, I humbly request SAI to kindly take care of food quality, hygiene, cleanness, etc, at SAI centre Bangalore in interest of health and performance of elite athletes. If we expect elite athletes to perform at their best, then we also need to provide them with the best."
The IOA chief sought a meeting with SAI DG to discuss the matter.
"Kindly give time to discuss on these issues since it is a problem across all centres of SAI," Batra wrote.
SAI’s Response: ‘Orders Have Been Issued’
While Hockey India has refused to comment on the issue, SAI has decided to go for a performance review of all its regional centres.
"We are deeply concerned about the quality of food and hygiene in the SAI centres and give it the highest priority. The problem in Bengaluru has come to the notice earlier during the Minister's (Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore) visit in March this year," said SAI Director General Neelam Kapur in a statement.
"Orders have been issued to take corrective action which includes hiring a new cook, ensuring quality of raw food supply and improving hygiene." The complaint has prompted the DG to call an urgent meeting of the Regional Heads.
"Regional Directors will be accountable to ensure quality food and hygiene. Monitoring systems are being put in place including surprise checks. Strict action will be taken on any complaints received," Kapur added.
The Indian team is training in the Karnataka capital for the Champions Trophy to be held in Breda, Netherlands from 23 June to 1 July.
(With inputs from PTI)
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