Do you need to be a Citizen to represent India?
Well that is what the Government of India and the Sports Minister M.S. Gill think and had passed as a law a while back which is harming Indian sports terribly on all fronts. If you want to represent India you have to hold an Indian passport otherwise you aren’t Indian and we don’t want you to represent us. It sounds very rude, but this is what this law implies. And then India is no USA or Australia where we have tons of talent and can do without some of these Indian origin talents representing us.
If one is honest enough then one would classify India as a developing sporting nation. One gold and two bronze medals at the last 2008 Beijing Olympics surely highlight that fact. We have a long way to go before we should call ourselves a sporting nation, but we surely are a nation of couch potatoes who love to watch top class international sports on television.
Why am I raising this point. A number of athletes of Indian origin are performing credibly in a number of sports. They are born in the US, Europe or Australia and could help us speed up the process of developing India as a sporting nation. Take e.g. Tennis, the sports worst hit by this law. Players like Prakash Amritraj, Shikha Uberoi and Sunitha Rao have all represented India in the past, but once this law was in place these American passport holders could no longer play Davis Cup or Fed Cup for India. Who did this harm? The national teams in tennis and our chances to win medals at events like the upcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. And why do these athletes want to keep their American passports? It is quite simple. Tennis players travel up to 35 weeks a year around the world and as an American citizen you don’t need visas for too many countries, but as an Indian you need visas for most countries, so it is a logistical nightmare that these players just want to avoid. And these players play more on the tour then for their respective countries.
Then we have the issue of Players of Indian Origin in football. After I saw a feature on Vikash Dhorasoo on TV show Futbol Mundial 11 years ago I started the search about PIO’s on my old website. Then I had the notion that there are many PIO talents playing across the world who have not been scouted. I didn’t know then that I would be that wrong as the talents that could represent India are far and few, but they are there. I had held discussions with the AIFF a few years back and the idea to allow PIO’s to play in the Indian league evolved out of it, but now even that slot has been taken away again as PIO’s cannot represent India without a passport, so what value does such a slot have to Team India?
Lets take an easy example. If a player with a British passport wants to represent India in football he needs an Indian passport, but dual citizenship isn’t allowed so taking up an Indian passport and handing back the British would most likely lead him to no longer be eligible for a work permit in the United Kingdom as India do not fall in the top 75 of the FIFA world rankings, so he could lose his club contract. Would a player take such a step to play for a country? I honestly doubt it then the club career in football is what earns the players their bread and butter.
So such a law as we have it in India isn’t needed. Once more lets take the example of football. FIFA allows players to represent national teams in their competitions if they can prove that they are off origin of that nation/territory. This means holding a “Person of Indian Origin” or “Overseas Citizen of Indian” card would entitle a player to represent India as that is a certain prove of origin.
My question once more simple, why restrict us from allowing PIO’s or OCI’s to represent our nation? We should embrace anyone willing to represent India. Maybe someone is listening…