'People like Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh are born once and it is our duty not to neglect their achievements'
India's hockey stalwarts feel that the late Balbir Singh Sr did not get the recognition he merited in his lifetime and the three-time Olympic gold-winning centre-forward should be bestowed with a posthumous national honour to make up for it.
Indian hockey witnessed an end of an era, on Monday, when Singh died at a hospital in Mohali at the age of 96 after battling multiple health issues for over two weeks.
While Major Dhyan Chand, considered the father of Indian hockey, showed his mastery with the hockey stick in a colonised India, the post-independence era belonged to Singh.
Dhyan Chand was bestowed with many honours in his life, but a Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award in 1957, was all that Singh got in his lifetime.
"Both Dada Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh were stalwarts of Indian sports. Both have achieved equally in terms of records so if Dhyan Chand is the father of Indian hockey, Balbir is the uncle," captain of the 1975 World Cup-winning team Ajit Pal Singh said.
"We somehow gave due respect to Dhyan Chand by naming the National Stadium in his name besides celebrating his birthday as National Sports Day or say naming Dhyan Chand award after him but Balbir Singh never got the recognition he deserved. What he got was a Padma Shri but I feel both deserve to be honoured with Bharat Ratna. Why not? They are our national heroes who have been inspiring a generation of sportspersons and will continue to do so," he added.
Three Olympic gold medals (1948, 1952, and 1956) as a player and captain, a world cup gold as manager and to-this-date the highest individual scorer in an Olympic final (1952, Helsinki) -- Singh is widely considered the best centre-forward of all time and to many experts and fans "the man who took forward the original wizard's legacy".
"Balbir Singh was a true inspiration for all of us. He and Dada Dhayan Chand had no comparison, both were greats in their own times. I feel Balbir Singh didn't get due honour," said Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar, who played a key role in India's 1975 World Cup win.
"He was only bestowed with a Padma Shri, but he should at least have been give Padma Vibhusan," he added.
Another former India hockey captain Dilip Tirkey also urged the government to consider Singh for at least the Padma Vibhusan posthumously for his stellar achievements in the field of sports.
"It is very sad that Balbir Singh ji is no more with us but as a nation we can still give him his due recognition. People like Dhyan Chand, Balbir Singh are born once and it is our duty not to neglect their achievements," Tirkey said.
"People like Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh are our national treasure. The government still can pull back and study their achievements and records and honour them accordingly," he added.