Stung by a perceived lack of respect from the All India Football Federation (AIFF), surviving Olympians of the 1956 squad have erupted in anger. Members of the team — the first from Asia to make the semifinals in the Melbourne Games — said on Tuesday that they would return the grant of Rs. 25,000 the AIFF gave them.
At a press conference in Kolkata on Tuesday, Samar ‘Badru’ Banerjee, skipper of the 1956 team, Nikhil Nandy and Tulsidas Balaram said they would return the money “as soon as possible.” They said six members of the squad not based here too supported the decision as did PK Banerjee and K D Pal who didn’t attend for personal reasons.
The reason stalwarts of yesteryear turned angry old men was the way the money was sent. “We had asked (Alberto) Colaco (the AIFF general-secretary) to see if it was possible to arrange a pension scheme for Olympians and international footballers,” said Banerjee. “They also promised to provide us an Indian Railways gold pass for which we had been toiling for the past five years.”
The AIFF’s executive committee approved a one-time grant of Rs. 25,000 and on July 28, cheques were sent along with copies of letters written to Lalu Prasad Yadav, then Railway Minister, and Injeti Srinivas (joint-secretary in the sports ministry).
“We are not beggars,” fumed Balaram. “We made our country proud at the Olympics. The AIFF washed their hands off the matter after sending us a grant of Rs. 25,000 was improper,” the little man who exploded on the Kolkata Maidan in 1958 said.
“All we want is some respect from the parent body and not cheques with some figures scribbled on it,” Balaram said. Colaco refused to comment on the issue. The Olympians have also decided to inform the sports ministry. Sports minister MS Gill had presented them cheques of Rs. 1.5 lakh each earlier this year.
India lost 1-4 to Yugoslavia in the semi-finals in Melbourne and 0-3 to Bulgaria in the semi-final playoffs to finish fourth. They beat Australia 4-2, Neville D’Souza becoming the first Indian to score an international hattrick.