New Delhi: After a daylong drama, Hockey India (HI) finally decided to send the squad for the Azlan Shah hockey tournament on Tuesday when the government agreed to bear the airfare for the entire squad.
The annual Azlan Shah tournament will be held in Malaysia from March 9 to 17. India have won the meet five times before in 1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and 2010.
Earlier, there was uncertainty over India’s participation after HI announced it was “forced to withdraw” from the tournament because of Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) refusal to pay the airfare.
A jittery sports ministry immediately called for a review of the decision and decided to bear the expenses themselves.
Soon after HI decided to pull out of the event, sports secretary P K Deb stepped in to resolve the issue.
“The Sports Ministry has asked SAI to release the funds. We stepped in because Azlan Shah is a very important tournament and we don't want to deprive our players a chance to participate in such a prestigious tournament,” Deb said.
“India have always figured in the previous editions of the tournament and the sports ministry made the exception this time keeping in mind the players’ interest,” he added.
Deb, however, asked Hockey India to exercise fiscal restrain in future.
“One thing I would like to make it clear is that HI needs to be more cautious and disciplined in spending money which has been allocated to them by SAI”, Deb said.
“SAI must have told them about this spending of money. This time we have made the exception but not always,” Deb said.
While HI officials said the earlier SAI decision was “demoralising” for the game and the players in particular, senior SAI officers claimed HI restored to arm-twisting tactics.
“HI overspent all its budgetary allocations and then played the pressure game to get more money,” an official said, adding a budget of Rs 5.94 crore was initially allotted for hockey for 2012-13 financial year.
“In the review meeting on October 8, 2012, HI asked for a raise and their budget was almost doubled to Rs 11.77 crore.
It was then decided that the team for the Azlan Shah would be cleared on “no cost to government” basis, as the Malaysian organisers would take care of hotel expenses. Now they are asking for the airfare also,” the official said.
Incidentally, the Indian football team, which left for Myanmar on Monday for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, has also been cleared on a “no cost to government” basis.