Hockey star Lazarus Barla wants to give back to society

Bhubaneswar: He has played hockey for India across a range of tournaments — over 170 matches at the Olympics, World Cups and the Champions Trophy since making his international debut in 1997 at the Junior World Cup tournament and captaining the team at the Junior Asia Cup.

Now, Lazarus Barla, who was adjudged the best defender at the 2000 Sydney Olympics for his a stellar performance in tandem with teammate Dilip Tirkey, wants to give back to society for the opportunities that came his way.

“If the Odisha government assures me that they will give me a job to impart coaching to the hockey players, it would be better for me. Out of 53-54 hockey players in Odisha, I am the only person who is in the field of coaching. I want to give back to the society,” said Barla, who belongs to the Oraon tribe of Chota Nagpur. He honed his skills at the Pamposh Sports Hostel in Rourkela.

After retiring from active hockey, he is working as an assistant general manager with Air India. However, now he wants to devote his time in imparting coaching to nurture Odisha’s budding talent in hockey.

“I am now doing the work of station manager in Air India even though I am posted as assistant general manager. I hardly get any leisure time to dedicate myself to hockey. It is a difficult situation for me. I have a weakness to impart coaching and nourish the talents in hockey. But, I can’t quit Air India since it is the matter of bread and butter for me,” Barla lamented.

What does he recall of his playing days?

While there are many happy memories, one that continues to haunt him is the heart-wrenching draw with Poland at the Sydney Olympics, where India lost the chance to win a medal by a whisker.

“One thing I cannot forget that we lost a medal by a whisker in Sydney Olympics. I will always regret that throughout my life. We were very close to the medal. But, we lost it because of a small mistake,” Barla told IANS.

At the Sydney Olympics, India had played some excellent hockey throughout the tournament. India’s last match was against Poland, who were already out of the contention of qualifying for the semifinals.

India were quite confident of making to the semifinals. But about one minute away from the semifinal berth, Poland scored the equalising goal shattering India’s hopes as the matched ended in a 1-1 draw.

“Since we had lost to South Korea in the pool, they played the semifinal despite equal points and goals. We were so close yet so far to the medal,” recalled Barla.

“If India had won that match, the game could have been so different. We could have played the semifinal against Pakistan, which was not a strong team during that time. Had we won the match, we would have entered the final and ensured a medal for the country,” said Barla.

Not only the sports lovers in the country, but the players also got devastated following the heartbreaking game at the Olympics.

“We returned to the dressing room with most of the players in a state of shock. Several players cried. We all were disappointed,” he added.

Before the Men’s Hockey World Cup held at Bhubaneswar last year, Hockey India has appointed Barla as coach for the national senior hockey coaching camp. India finished sixth in the tournament.

Prior to this assignment, Barla was the coach of the national junior team before the Junior World Cup.