Born in pre-partition Punjab, Balbir Singh Dosanjh was the only Indian athlete to have received the ‘Iconic Olympians’ honour by the IOC.
India woke up to the sad news of the demise of one of the nation’s greatest hockey players Balbir Singh Sr on Monday as the 96-year-old breathed his last at a hospital in Chandigarh.
The three-time Olympic gold medallist, who was India’s flag-bearer at the 1952 Olympics and captained the side at the 1956 Games, had also managed the Indian side to its only World Cup title in 1975.
Hockey India paid tribute to the Padma Shri and the Major Dhyan Chand Lifetime Achievement Awardee by highlighting the greatness and simplicity of the legendary athlete.
“While his achievements in the post-independent era have been well-documented, Balbir Sr. remained the greatest fan of the sport and was always there when we needed his advice,” Hockey India (HI) President Mohd Mushtaque Ahmad said in a statement.
Hockey India General Secretary Rajinder Singh added, “It is difficult to mention him in past-tense because for us he was always there. One could call on him for advice at any time, his spirit and adulation for the game will be missed.”
The entire country, from Narendra Modi to Abhinav Bindra, offered their condolences for the passing away of India’s only athlete to be honoured with the ‘Iconic Olympians’ tag by the International Olympic Committee.
Indian hockey legend Dhanraj Pillay, who always had the backing of Balbir Singh Sr. to coach the Indian hockey team after the forward had retired, was also amongst the veterans who took to social media to mourn Balbir Singh Sr.s’ passing.
The hockey legend was a guiding light for the current crop of Indian players as well, who have come a long way in renewing India's long-lost hockey status.
Numerous athletes from other sports also recognised Balbir Singh Sr’s Olympic appearances that transcended the hockey fraternity to be an inspiration for many others over the decades.
Balbir Singh Sr’s last rites will be performed in Chandigarh’s Sector 25 electric crematorium at 5:30 pm on Monday.