Want to play hockey for India? Do so for passion, but don't expect any money. That's the deal that the players representing the nation in the Olympic Qualifiers have. The sad bit is that the federation has a wealthy sponsor but has failed to distribute any money to the players.
Hockey India earns crores in sponsorship money annually, but its attitude is forcing many top players to look elsewhere for returns. Little wonder then that they are moving out in droves to be part of the lucrative World Series of Hockey (WSH) beginning in Chandigarh on Feb 29.HI recently signed a R50 crore five-year deal with Sahara. But players are not in their scheme of things. During the one-and-a-half year deal - from July 2010 to December 2011 - with the same sponsor, the federation received Rs 5.5 crore. But the players were given Rs 25,000 each for their title-winning effort at the Asian Champions Trophy in China last September. That money too went back into HI's coffers after the players refused to accept the 'largesse'.
So, where is the money going? HI's CEO, Elena Norman from Australia, takes home an annual package of Rs 30 lakh. The aggregate salary of the other staff members per annum too comes to around Rs 30 lakh. Add to this the federation's operating cost of around Rs 1.2 crore annually. HI practically runs its office on sponsorship money.
In the years HI has been in existence, the federation has failed to share even a miniscule sum of sponsorship money with players even though the expenditure on training, boarding, lodging and international exposure is borne by the sports ministry. The ministry spent Rs 18 crore on the India squads during the corresponding one-and-a-half year period when HI earned Rs 5.5 crore.
"As in cricket, HI should have shared a part of the sponsorship money with the players. Had they done this, no player would have joined the WSH," says a national camper.
Nearly half of the 33 players, including former skippers Rajpal Singh and Arjun Halappa, Ravipal, Vikram Pillay and Bharat Chikara, have decided to play in the WSH despite their names appearing in the federation's list of probables for the London Olympic Games preparatory camp.
"The WSH is good for the sport. Hockey has never seen so much money before," says Halappa, who is skipper of one of the franchises. "An international-level player will earn between R5-10 lakh in just one month," he adds.
HI secretary Narinder Batra, when contacted, said: "I am not answerable to the press or to anybody else on the sponsorship issue. After the Olympic Qualifiers, I will have a meeting with the players and discuss the issue with them."
Others better off
Sahara India is also sponsoring boxing, wrestling and shooting in the country. But here, the players are direct beneficiaries of the sponsorship money.
About 15 shooters are part of a graded system of payment where they earn between Rss6-18 lakh per annum. In boxing, 13 pugilists are part of the graded system and earn between Rs 2-12 lakh. Ditto for wrestling, where 18 of them earn between Rs 3-12 lakh annually.