The striking Indian hockey players expressed willingness to play the upcoming World Cup and also fund the preparatory camp with their own money if need be after their demands for settlement of long-pending dues were rejected by Hockey India on Tuesday.
"We are willing to play the World Cup with our money. Since they [Hockey India] are saying they don't have the money we are ready to chip in from our own pockets," declared captain Rajpal Singh on Tuesday, dismissing Hockey India's allegation that the players are putting money before national honour.
"Is it wrong to talk about our rights?" he asked.
"Hockey India said they don't have money. In that case, we don't want to increase their burden and all 22 players are ready to fund our own World Cup preparation. But the thing is they have to give us written assurances, which they are not ready to."
The striking players, who claimed they had requested a meeting with team sponsors Sahara but were denied one by Hockey India officials, said they are ready to resume training immediately provided they get written assurances from the establishment.
"The players have been told either they give up on the demands and start practicing, else they would have to leave the camp in Pune," goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza said.
"We want to see the contracts with the sponsors to find out how much money came in but we are not being show the account," he added.
Terming the episode "unfortunate", Adrian said the players are sad about it.
"We don't want it to go to the extent where India has to field a 'B' team. I can tell you that we will not be happy and celebrate if we have to go back home from the camp.
"All we want is a written assurance so that we can show it if the next Hockey India set-up challenges our claims.
"You will not believe... we got a daily allowance of US $20 on our last tour of Argentina. And when we won the Azlan Shah Cup last year, the amount was US $14," he added.
All the 22 players attending the World Cup prepatory camp in Pune had earlier on Tuesday walked out of an inconclusive meeting with Hockey India officials, prompting the establishment to serve a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to them to resume training or get axed from the World Cup squad.
Hockey India said it does not have the money to pay the players, who are allegedly demanding Rs 4.5 lakh each for the tournaments they played in and a graded system. It said if the players don't resume training by Thursday they will field reserve players for the World Cup, to be held in Delhi from February 28 to March 13.
"For the last ten years, we did not get any incentive and today when we asked for incentives they turned us down; that is why we are protesting. This is a national hockey team but they are treating us like a school team which is not acceptable," said ace forward Prabhjot Singh.
The players wondered how Hockey India could promise them a hefty incentive of Rs 1 crore for a podium finish at next month's World Cup when it has turned down their demand to pay incentives for podium finishes in at least three tournaments in 2009.
"[Narender] Batra (Hockey India treasurer) had promised Rs 1 crore for a podium finish at the World Cup and said he would beg, borrow or steal for the same. So we are demanding why we were not paid incentives for podium finishes in the last year or two," said Adrian.
Veteran forward Deepak Thakur asked why the players are being blamed for the current crisis.
"Agreed we are wrong by not taking part in the camp, but why is no one pointing the blame at Hockey India officials?" he asked.
"We are only trying to show how the hockey players have been treated over the years. This will keep happening if we don't protest.
"Nothing comes before nation, not even money. And why is it so that only the players have to think about the nation and not the administrators?," he added.
At the World Cup, India are drawn in Pool B along with arch-rivals Pakistan, Australia, Spain, England and South Africa.
Pool A has Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, Canada and Argentina.