The rise and fall of Sandeep Singh, the hockey icon-turned-Haryana sports minister, now booked for sexual harassment

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“He touched my thighs and said he liked me. He also asked me not to run here and there and said that he would get me sponsored and also help me get my Instagram account verified if I made him happy.”

“He also tried to kiss me forcefully but I pushed him away. He also told me that other girls (players) never said no to him.”

These statements are part of a police complaint filed by a former national-level player and junior athlete coach in Haryana against the now resigned Sports Minister Sandeep Singh.

As the world entered the new year, Haryana was stunned when a woman coach alleged that former Olympian, Sandeep Singh — who is now a minister on a BJP ticket — had harassed her from February to November last year, by repeated messages on social media and had touched her inappropriately and also threatened her in messages. Speaking to the press, the woman said: “I am also a player, think how much patience I would have to tolerate such ill behaviour of this person from February till now,” adding that she hadn’t spoken of the harassment earlier, as she was afraid of the negative impact on the sports industry. “I tried as much as I could. He created, such an atmosphere officially that a girl comes to him automatically,” she added.

After the allegations came to light, the former captain of the men’s national hockey team, Sandeep Singh gave up his sports portfolio on “moral grounds” and termed the allegations against him as an attempt to spoil his image. Singh, a first-time MLA from Pehowa in Kurukshetra, expressed hope that there will be a thorough investigation into the matter.

The Chandigarh Police has booked Singh under sections 354 (assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354 A (sexual harassment), 354 B (compelling her to be naked), 342 (wrongful confinement) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), with a spokesperson adding that the police are conducting a “fair investigation” in the matter.

A meteoric rise in hockey

Sandeep Singh was born in 1986, in the town of Shahabad in Kurukshetra, to Gurucharan Singh Saini and Daljeet Kaur Saini.

It is said that his fascination for hockey didn’t come from the sport, but it emerged after he started feeling jealous over his elder brother’s Bikramjeet Singh’s kit and hockey gear. After pleading with his mother, she agreed to get his own kit if he started playing the sport.

It was all the motivation Singh needed to play hockey and soon his talent came to the fore. He made waves at the youth level and earned him a fine reputation for his powerful drag-flicks, later considered to be one of the best in the world. In 2004, he became the youngest Indian player to play for the senior side in the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. He scored only a single goal and India finished last, but his abilities and skills with the hockey stick started getting him noticed.

The same year, in Athens, Singh created another record by becoming the youngest Indian hockey player to represent the country in the Olympics.

In 2005, he made headlines when he became the highest scorer in the Junior World Cup — 10 goals — and earned the nickname of ‘Flicker Singh’. Singh was then included in the senior team for the 2006 Hockey World Cup. It was an event that was supposed to be his springboard to success with the Indian national team but the dream was cruelly cut short a few months prior.

An accident and his climb back to the top

On 22 August 2006, Singh was travelling from Chandigarh to New Delhi, by the Kalka Shatabdi Express, to join his teammates. However, in a freak accident, a Railway Police Force (RPF) officer seated behind his compartment accidentally pulled the trigger while cleaning his rifle, shooting Singh in the spine.

He was admitted to PGIMER in Chandigarh for days where doctors informed him that he would be paralysed from the waist down and he may never play hockey again. It was a bitter pill for Singh to swallow, but he didn’t let the injury stop him. According to reports and accounts, he asked his brother Bikramjeet to hand him the hockey stick his father gifted him as a child to motivate himself and gradually regained his strength with the help of his family.

In 2008, after intense physical rehabilitation and a ‘never die attitude’, he found his spot back in the national hockey team and at the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup he emerged as the top scorer with a total of nine goals.

In the following year, under his captaincy, India won the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and then made their way to the London Olympics in 2012. Singh scored 16 goals in that qualifying campaign, including five against France In the final qualifier.

Singh’s flicks were world famous — his drag-flick speed was measured at speeds above 145 km per hour.

Sandeep Singh formally announced his retirement from hockey in 2016.

From sports to politics

Singh in 2019 joined the BJP and he contested the elections from the Pehowa Assembly segment. He defeated Mandeep Singh Chatha, son of veteran Congress leader and former Haryana Speaker HS Chatha. He was later inducted into the Cabinet as the sports minister and Minister of Printing and Stationery (MoS) (Independent Charge).

As the sports minister, he oversaw the Fourth Khelo India Youth Games in Panchkula earlier this year.

Before venturing into politics, a biographical movie — Soorma — was made on his life in 2018, starring Diljit Dosanjh and Tapsee Pannu in lead roles. In the following year, he also appeared as a judge on MTV’s reality show — Roadies.

With inputs from agencies

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The rise and fall of Sandeep Singh, the hockey icon-turned-Haryana sports minister, now booked for sexual harassment
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