The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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IFA in game of one-upmanship

A unique characteristic of our sports administrators is their knack for making issues out of non-issues instead of paying attention to problems crying for attention. The Indian Football Associationís (IFA) decision to ask Railways employees to don Bengal colours in the Santosh Trophy is the latest on the list of administrative whims.

The IFA demand is fair to the extent that the Santosh Trophy rules have been changed to let players represent the states of their origin rather than the states they ply their trade in. But it is unjust because settling personal points ó and not fighting for principles ó seems to be the motive behind this move. The number of recent clashes of opinion between the IFA and AIFF causes such apprehension.

While trying to get even in this filthy game of one-upmanship, the IFA has undermined decades of patronage the Railways extended to Indian sport. Itís possible that the IFA didnít do it deliberately, but the demand to release players for Santosh Trophy amounts to that. This is unfair on the organisation that employs more sportsmen than any other in the country. The IFA move can also be called an administrative blunder, because it comes at a time when most public and private bodies are showing disinterest in employing players.

In an amateur sports structure like ours, the Railways have been a symbol of security right since the days when my career was still at a formative stage. Not that they would recruit players in premier posts, but what they offered was (and still is) enough to sustain a budding career in sports. The days of leave with pay granted to those doing well, is a small reminder of the huge service the Railways does.

The IFA may have a point that needs better treatment and the AIFF may also have an argument in its favour, but such disputes should be better dealt with in a country trying to resurrect its football. The damage will be irreparable if the stain of this petty scuffle annoys institutions integral to the existence of sports in India.

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