India hockey captain Ritu Rani dropped from Rio squad..


New Delhi: Captain of the Indian women's national team and one of the brightest stars from Haryana, Ritu Rani has left the national team's camp for the Rio Games in Bengaluru and returned home. The final squad of 16 is to be picked in three days’ time but a senior member of the team management confirmed that Ritu has left the ongoing national camp in Bengaluru.

Sources said Ritu was told that she was not performing to expectations and would not be picked in the team. This left her "heart-broken" and she had no option but to return to Shahabad. This has effectively ended her chance of leading India at the Rio Olympics. Ritu recently got engaged to Patiala-based Punjabi singer Harsh Sharma -son of SAI coach and former hockey player Poonam Bala Sharma. 

Ritu's engagement ceremony took place on July 1. She had decided to get married only after the Rio Olympics. It is learnt that India's national team chief coach Neil Hawgood was unhappy with Ritu's fitness levels. The Australian also had disciplinary issues with the 24-year-old Ritu. A senior player in the team told TOI that Hawgood was unhappy with the fact that Ritu left the camp to attend her engagement ceremony. 

The Aussie found this "unprofessional". When Ritu returned to the camp, she was told to go back. A member of the coaching staff said Ritu's "poor form and attitude" led to her exclusion. "It's correct that Ritu is not in the Olympic team. Her exclusion is solely on two counts -her (poor) performance and her attitude. It was explained to her time and again that she needed to lift her performance but she couldn't do so. The camp is still going on in Bangalore. Ritu left the camp on Thursday," he said.

Meanwhile, Ritu remained incommunicado throughout the day. Even when TOI tried to contact Ritu at her Shahabad residence, her parents said she wasn't home. Expressing his disappointment, Ritu's father Jaipal Singh said, "She never missed a single national camp. She has led the Indian team for almost four years, and it's now – at a crucial juncture -that they find that she is not focused. The camp coordinators should have called us and asked if there was any problem regarding Ritu's attitude. We would have sorted it out. I feel there is no such problem, this is just an excuse to drop her." Ritu's mother had pain and grief written all over her face. 

She still can't believe that her daughter has been dropped. "The game was always Ritu's priority. She would skip meals but never skipped practice. At present, she is shattered and saddened." The parents alleged that Ritu has been dropped due to ongoing politics and "rampant favouritism" in the team. "In March, she was awarded Ajit Pal Singh Midfielder Award by Hockey India. She also went to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi five days back. Her name was recommended for Arjuna Award. Now all of a sudden this news is very strange and fishy."

HI president Narinder Batra downplayed the issue and felt that it was 'immature' on Ritu's part to come back to Shahabad. "It's really immature on part of Ritu because the team is not yet announced. It will be officially announced only on July 12 when I will publicly open the sealed envelope," Batra said.