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Hockey India-SAI could have avoided such a hellish confrontation

One can safely predict a promising future for the sport of hockey in the country. The national men’s team reached the semifinals of the FIH 34th Champions Trophy besides finishing runners-up in the 2nd Asian Champions Trophy – a distinct improvement from the disastrous London Olympics campaign.

Nowhere to look.

Nowhere to look: File photo of members of the Indian team.

The success of the inaugural Hockey India League (in terms of the Indian youngsters getting an opportunity to play alongside some of the world’s top players and high spectator interest) convinced us that things are indeed heading in the right direction.

But a bit of one-upmanship between Hockey India and Sports Authority of India (SAI) officials came as a dampener – a near fallout – to the Indian players. A close look at what transpired between the two parties does indicate that the whole issue could have been handled in a much better behind closed doors.

Hockey India (HI) got it wrong by issuing a press statement that the team is withdrawing from the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament because SAI has refused to foot the air travel bills of the national squad.

One is not trying to say that Hockey India did its reputation no good by going on record about their team’s withdrawal. If at all, HI was annoyed with SAI for approving the budget for air travel of the squad, it should have moved the Sports Ministry regarding the same. Of course, if the response from the ministry was not a positive one, then it makes sense for HI to issue a public statement.

In hindsight, HI kept cribbing about the players’ air-travel being not approved by SAI and only after online media sites came up with the news of the team’s withdrawal, the Sports Ministry swung into action and approved the air travel of the squad within a few hours, albeit with warning a to HI to exercise fiscal restraint in future.

It is difficult to buy Hockey India’s view that the SAI had been vindictive against HI for another incident involving a drunken security guard at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium asking for bribes from the heavy vehicles, which came to the Stadium to collect heavy equipment.

Hockey India has been categorical that SAI acted in a vindictive manner against them because it lodged a FIR against the drunken security guard and refused to withdraw the case on latter’s request.

But SAI has figures to suggest that the initial non-approval of the budget for the air travel of the squad and that it has nothing to do with the incident involving the security guard. HI’s needled of suspicion points towards this incident since SAI runs the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium. In fact, SAI scoffed at such talk saying that the security guard is from a private security firm.

It may be pertinent to point out that SAI allocated a budget of Rs 6 crore for hockey for 2012-13 but the expenses of HI have doubled. Hockey India’s annual sponsorship is Rs 13 crore (Rs 8.5 crore from Sahara and Rs 4.5 crores from Cairns India). The air fare for the squad would have involved an expenditure of Rs 15 lakh.

One is not suggesting that Hockey India should be paid for the air travel of its squad members since it is financially healthy thanks to twin corporate sponsors – Sahara and Cairns India.

Startlingly, SAI has revealed that HI had agreed to pay for the air travel of its players for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup during their October annual calendar for training and competition (ACTC) meeting, which only spices up the whole issue.

Both parties could have best avoided a confrontation by sitting across the table. But they refused to do so and traded charges at each other. Of course, SAI is justified is serving a warning to HI for overshooting the allocated budget.

Going forward, HI would be better off in ensuring some of its corporate sponsorship money is used for the travel and expenses of its players. More tournaments outside the country would mean more expenses and SAI, given its recent stand, won’t be willing to oblige HI each time.

As HI has some sponsorship money flowing into the system, they should weight this option. HI can take a rigid stand by saying that sponsorship money is meant for the development of the sport and not for managing the expenses of players.

In order to avoid any hellish face-off between the two parties, the Sports Minister must come into the picture and talk to both parties so that an amicable middle path is found. No wants to see such unbecoming official linen being washed in public domain.

Hopefully, a great show by our team in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup would obliterate these memories. Indian hockey needs to make a fast move-on from this uncalled-for episode.

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