Here is the farce of India’s national sport: players scrounge for food, bulbs, washing machines – and even uniforms.
In April-May this year, the Indian men’s hockey team went to play the four-nation tournament in Australia. They ran up a food bill of Aus$18,816.50 (about Rs 7.2 lakh). The team did not have enough money to fund its food, which is strange in itself, but were rescued by an Indian expatriate who charged the entire amount to his credit card to “save India embarrassment”.
The government-funded Indian Hockey Federation – which had an annual budget of Rs 5 crore before it was dissolved this year — was to pay him back.
Five months on, H.S. ‘Pali’ Chouhan, who left Jalandhar for Australia years ago to open a restaurant, is still waiting for the money. He has written to the IHF, then under K.P.S. Gill, and to other top Indian sports officials, but received no response.
With a mounting credit card bill and soaring interest on that, Chouhan has now written to the Union Sports Ministry. The Hindustan Times has a copy of that letter, dated September 15, 2008.
“I have always been a big fan of Indian hockey and they (the IHF) have used my love of the game and my sentiments about India to cheat me and it hurts,” Chouhan, who was managing the team’s catering, told HT from Perth.
This is the state when the government foots the bills for all major hockey events — for anything over Rs 2 lakh, 75 per cent is paid up-front and the remainder on presentation of bills.
Even more farcical stories have emerged from women’s hockey.
When the girls' team was headed for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament at freezing Kazan this year, players had no uniforms to shield them from the elements while travelling.
According to informed sources, word reached Yashraj Films — the company that had produced the superhit film Chak De.
Yashraj silently scrambled to put its film designers and dozens of tailors to work, waking up a button wholesaler in the night, and uniforms were stitched - and dispatched in two days.
A key member of the Indian team at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Kazan told HT: "Yes, it's true that some people related to films had provided us with travelling kits, but no one from the team had requested the same," she said, declining to be named for fear of action. <b1>
In the past, training camps for women had bathrooms without bulbs. Getting a washing machine for the players — who wash their own clothes —took the team six months, and requests for good hockey kits, cameras, laptops, video analysers and physiotherapy equipment were stonewalled, according to an official with access to inventory records.
Chouhan said he had submitted all the bills of the team's expenditure at Perth and Darwin to the IHF management. KPS Gill confirmed to HT that Chouhan was owed money. But claimed it was still lying with the Sports Ministry.
“As soon as we get the money, we will clear the dues,” he said. When asked whether the Indian team could not have left Australia without Chouhan paying the bill, he had no answer. “The government owes the IHF Rs 50 lakh as dues,” he said instead.
Sports Ministry spokesman Rajesh Malhotra sais 75 per cent of the amount had already been paid to the IHF ahead of the tour. “We reimburse the remaining 25 per cent after the submission of bills by federations,” he said.
So where is the money? At this point, no one's quite sure. There is no question though of the government giving the dissolved IHF any money, after all its secretary-general was sacked when a TV sting operation caught him accepting money for selection!
So where does Chouhan go now? He doesn't know. But he's living in hope. Ask him if he'll ever help the hockey team in future and pat comes the answer: “Yes. How can I not? India is still my country and my love.”