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Confusion reigns over PIO sportspersons

india Updated: Jun 02, 2009 00:21 IST
Ajai Masand
Ajai Masand
Hindustan Times
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The People of Indian Origin (PIO) issue is back to haunt the Sports Ministry. After the ministry’s order in December that no PIO or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) could don the national colours in international competitions or be entitled to monetary assistance, comes the letter from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) that it was not consulted on the issue.

A letter written by the Diaspora Services Division of the MOIA to the secretary, Sports Ministry, says: “In terms of allocation of business, this ministry is to be consulted by the concerned ministries in all matters concerning overseas Indians handled by them. It may be pointed out that the MOIA, being the ministry created specially to look after the interests of PIOs and NRIs, has not been consulted while taking the above action.”

Interestingly, I. Srinivas, joint secretary, Sport Ministry, said on Monday that the MOIS had been “extensively consulted” on the issue. “There is some misunderstanding but the MOIS was consulted,” he said.

The MOIA letter, written by its Diaspora Services Division joint secretary, D.N. Srivastava, on May 21, further says: “The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is requested to consider review of its guidelines in respect of PIO/OCI sportspersons who have represented India earlier so as to make them eligible for representing the country in international sports events, etc.”

The Sports Ministry, under MS Gill, had dropped a bombshell on PIOs/OCIs stating that the honour of representing the country should not be given to foreign citizens. “When it is a question of Indians versus others (read PIOs/OCIs), the government’s priority is Indian citizens,” the Sports Ministry had said in December.

Sportspersons of Indian origin like tennis players Prakash Amritraj, Sunitha Rao, Shikha Uberoi besides a host of others in other disciplines including medal prospects in swimming, shooting and squash overnight became ineligible to play for the country despite having donned India colours in the Asian Games, Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the Olympics earlier. The move was severely criticised by the affected parties but the Sports Ministry had struck to its stand that everyone including the MOIA, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and sports federations had been consulted.

Now it transpires that the MOIS was in the dark all along. A Right To Information (RTI) application submitted to the MOIA by an aggrieved OCI, squash player Karm Kumar, on March 23, demanding copies of all the responses received from the Sports Ministry regarding PIO/OCI status to represent the country got this response. “The MOIA has not received any documents from the Sports Ministry…this ministry has not issued any notification on the subject of PIO/OCI,” said the MOIA letter.

Karm, born and brought up in India, has a British passport because of his father. He is now fighting for his right to represent the country in the World Juniors. On Monday, he was declared ‘stateless’ and the WSF vice-president Gerard DeCourcy stated that the 16-year-old’s entry could not be accepted for the World Juniors in July since he “is not represented by any country”.

“I have been denied the right to compete in an individual capacity too and rendered a human rights violator by the Sports Ministry,” he said in disgust.