India have an enviable record in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup held annually around this time of the year in Malaysia. So, when the news came that Hockey India (HI) was withdrawing the team from the prestigious tournament because of the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) refusal to bear the airfare for the tournament (March 9 to 17), it sent shockwaves in the hockey fraternity.
The sports ministry quickly intervened and directed SAI to bear the cost of travel, thus defusing a potential stalemate, but as SAI director-general Gopal Krishna pointed out to HT, the earlier decision to clear the team on a "No Cost To Government basis" was taken because HI had far exceeded its allocated budget of R6 crore for 2012-13.
"The allocated budget for hockey for 2012-13 was R6 crore, but because of the inclusion of many exposures trips and competitions at the last moment (by HI), we've already spent more than double that amount on hockey," said Krishna.
"During the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC) meeting in October, Narinder Batra (HI secretary-general) was present. HI agreed that they would bear the cost of travel for the Azlan Shah Cup. Had they raised objections then, we would have looked at alternatives," said Krishna.
"On the basis of the ACTC meeting, duly approved by HI, we asked them to foot the bill."
A press release issued by HI on Tuesday says the return airfare for the 28-member squad, including 18 players, is approximately Rs 15 lakh.
No lack of sponsors
So, was it difficult for HI, which has an annual sponsorship of R14 crore (R8.5cr from Sahara, and R5.4cr from Cairn India), to cough up Rs 15 lakh?
Batra vehemently denied SAI's side of the story, saying there was more to the issue than was being portrayed. The top HI official denied he had agreed with SAI to bear the airfare. "Let them show me the document. They (SAI) are telling a lie," said Batra.
"HI can send the team on its own… here money is not the issue. SAI is arm-twisting us because we had filed a complaint against their security officer at the National Stadium," he added.