Manpreet Singh story: Playing in fourth Olympics braving poverty and allegations

NewsDrum Desk
New Update

Bengaluru, July 11 (PTI) Manpreet Singh’s life has never been easy. He had to play hockey through shattering life experiences such as a poverty-stricken childhood, a family struggling to make both ends meet, and an allegation that burns his soul till date.

Manpreet, whose CV includes an Olympic bronze (Tokyo) and two Asian Games gold medals (2014, 2022), has those scarring moments to draw strength from when he walks onto the field in the Indian jersey in the Paris Olympics later this month.

It will be his fourth Olympics, something the 32-year-old never imagined to achieve when he started his journey from the modest lanes of Mithapur, a town in Punjab.

“I never thought that I would be able to play four Olympics. It is every player's dream to play in the Olympics and win medals.

“I consider myself very lucky that this is my fourth Olympics,” Manpreet told PTI Bhasha.

Manpreet, who marshalled India’s charge to bronze in Tokyo, wants to give a shot at changing the colour of the medal that the team won in Japan.

“I am going (to play) as if this is my last Olympics and I have to give my best. But I haven’t thought about hanging the boots as my focus is on the Paris games,” said Manpreet, who made his debut for India in 2011 as a 19-year-old.

But in sports, as it often happens in life, a low closely tails a high. Manpreet knows this axiom better than anyone else.

After the Tokyo glory, Sjoerd Marijne, the former India coach, alleged that Manpreet asked a player to underperform so that his friends could get in the team during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Both the men’s and women's teams jointly denied the allegation, stating that the Dutchman did so to publicise his book.

But the wounds are still raw.

“It was the most difficult phase for me. I could never even think of such things. I was broken and lost faith in everyone. I spoke to Sreejesh (India goalkeeper) with whom I share everything.

“My mother also encouraged me to keep playing to fulfil my father's dream and the whole team supported me,” he choked with emotion.

Manpreet valued the support of his family, teammates during the days of struggle, and he drew a parallel from the world of cricket.

Hardik Pandya was booed relentlessly and was subjected to merciless online trolls after he replaced Rohit Sharma as Mumbai Indians’ captain in the IPL.

But the boos turned to cheers after the all-rounder played a vital role in India’s triumphant run in the T20 World Cup in the Americas.

“In bad times, the support of the family and team is very important because the player finds himself very lonely. When the team stands together, it gives a lot of encouragement and helps in making a comeback.

“We have seen Hardik Pandya making a great comeback in cricket recently,” said Manpreet, who was the flag bearer of the Indian contingent at Tokyo Olympics along with Mary Kom.

However, for Manpreet, as someone who has experienced struggles very early in his life, the 13-year journey with the Indian hockey team is nothing short of a dream.

“When I look back, it seems like a dream. I come from a humble background where we have struggled for basic needs. My father used to work as a carpenter in Dubai, but he had to return because of medical reasons.

“My mother struggled a lot and both my brothers had to leave hockey because of financial problems,” said Manpreet, who braved the death of his father to rejoin the team to score a goal against Pakistan in the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup.

In Paris, Manpreet will not be Indian skipper but for him that hardly matters.

“Even if I am not the captain now, it does not make any difference. Every player has his own role in hockey. The effort is to take everyone along.

“Being a senior, we have to inspire the youngsters,” said Manpreet, who idolises former Indian captain Pargat Singh, a Mithapur native.

The 32-year-old said their preparation for the global extravaganza is well on track.

“'Before the Tokyo Olympics, we spent maximum time together due to Covid that resulted in excellent team bonding.

“We will continue in a similar fashion because 11 players are the same who were in Tokyo. We are sharing our experiences with the five debutants,” he said.

Manpreet, who wears jersey number seven like his favourite players MS Dhoni, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham, said it will be naïve to take any team lightly in the Olympics.

“Our pool is tough and we cannot take any team lightly. New Zealand has defeated us in the World Cup and Ireland has recently defeated Belgium. Our focus is on ourselves as to how we can execute our strategy,” he said.

Manpreet hoped his team could convert those half chances against strong rivals.

“We get less chances against good teams but converting those 50:50 chances is the mark of a champion. We are well prepared to do that in Paris,” he said. PTI MJ SSC UNG