People OF Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) can no longer play for India. As reported by the Hindustan Times on December 24, this is a radical policy decision — taken by the Ministry of Sports — that is likely to be highly controversial.
It will effectively break India’s tennis team, with Vijay Amritraj’s son, Davis Cupper Prakash Amritraj, women tennis players Sunitha Rao and the Uberoi sisters, Shikha and Neha, all US citizens, being ineligible to play for India. Sunitha had turned out for India in the Olympics while Shikha was part of the Indian squad at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
The Government of India has decided that players who are not Indian citizens will not wear India colours. A sports ministry official told the Hindustan Times on Thursday that details of the policy would probably be officially announced on Friday. “It’s already a policy, made after consultations with various sports federations, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and a wide spectrum of people. The predominant view that emerged was that the honour of representing the country should not be given to a foreign citizen.”
“Representing India is the highest of honours and has a tremendous trickle-down effect,” said the official, adding that the other factor leading to the decision was the strict budgetary constraint. “It’s a question of Indians versus others. Naturally, the government’s priority is Indian citizens. We have no problems with non-resident Indians (NRIs). They can enjoy all the rights of an Indian citizen, but yes we have reservations about PIOs and OCIs.”
Despite the ministry saying it had taken a consensus on the issue, the IOA brass is livid. Randhir Singh, IOA secretary-general, insisted the ministry “had not got in touch”. “If it’s okay with international federations, then we have no issues. Any Indian origin player can represent India.” Does a battle lie ahead?