Fearing that players might, sooner or later, go after money and not for the pride of the country, the sports ministry on Thursday asked the national sports federations (NSFs) “to curb the tendency among sportsperson for giving preference to playing in prize-money tournaments rather than in tournaments where India participates for medals rather than cash awards”.
Perhaps miffed by the pullout of multiple tennis Grand Slam winners, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, and Rohan Bopanna from the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games to compete in the World Tour Finals in London, and the players’ rebellion earlier this year — 11 players led by Somdev Devvarman decided not to compete in the Davis Cup tie against South Korea — the ministry issued directives saying that, “Individual players will be able to avail grants given to NSFs by the ministry only if they undertake to play in the India team when called upon to do so without reservations.”
Speaking to HT, sports secretary, PK Deb, said, “Tennis had initially triggered a debate, but the directive is for all sports federations. Top players should first play for the country because the government gives them grants through federations to represent the nation.
“If they don’t represent the country, medals tally is bound to come down… If they want government money, they have to draw a line between nation and prize money.”
“Players and NSFs will have to give all this in writing…some exceptions will, however, be granted,” said Deb.
The ministry has asked the federations to ensure strict compliance.
A tendency has been seen among players to skip lesser-known events such as the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games and regional events where the level of competition is not very high and there is no prize money at stake.
The emergence of multi-million dollar sporting leagues, such as the Hockey India League (HIL) and the Indian Badminton League (IBL) too would have raised the hackles of the ministry.
There have been instances where players have lost in the first rounds of national tournaments or lesser-known international events, or made fleeting appearances — reportedly for huge sums of appearance money.
With the Sports Authority of India (SAI) providing the necessary infrastructure and hiring top coaches for training, besides funding the players’ international exposure and competition trips, the ministry, perhaps thought it prudent to put its foot down.
The flip side is, players might feign injury, and not compete anywhere. Time will tell how the ministry balances it out.