Here's how the system works in India. Controversy erupts. Politicians posture, promises are made, people are given hope and thereon begins an endless wait for promised rewards. But those promises are rarely kept, if ever. Here's proof.
Last week, in the middle of the hockey fracas, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal made a televised announcement. He said he was ready to financially support the Indian hockey team and if the team agreed to be mentored by the Punjab government, the state government would bear all expenses for training etc. It probably sent Badal's ratings up. Yet, in his own Punjab — where Badal also holds the Ministry of Sports portfolio —most sportspersons have not received promised cash incentives, part of the state government's own sports policy, for the last seven years.
For instance, medal winners from the 2002 Hyderabad National Games were promised Rs three, two and one lakh for a gold, silver and bronze respectively by the then government. They received nothing, from that government in power, or the current one.
“The Punjab government announced that they would give us the same cash prize as what Andhra Pradesh was offering their players — three, two and one lakh for the top three positions. But it's been eight years and not one of us has received anything. And the way sportspersons are treated in Punjab, I think talking about the Hyderabad National Games awards is wasting time,” said Harwant Kaur, who took gold in both the discus and shot-put events in Hyderabad.
Badal's party, in power for the next edition of the National Games (Guwahati, 2007), also promised cash awards that never materialised. World double-trap record holder Ronjan Sodhi, who took gold in the 2006 Asian Shooting Championships, a World Cup bonze in 2007, a silver in the 2007 Asian meet and gold in a 2008 World Cup, has not received a paisa.
Former world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu received no cash incentives for the four gold and one silver medal he won in Asian meets from 2006 to 2008. Four-time Olympian Mansher Singh won four Asian meet medals between 2006 and 2008, but again, received no cash awards.
So logically, as Badal believed that India's hockey players were correct in going on strike and demanding their just rewards, Punjab players should do exactly the same. And it's not just Punjab. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati also announced five crore for Hockey India during the controversy.
HT ran a story on October 5, 2009, headlined, “This turf needs help, is anybody listening?” It was about the totally damaged hockey turf at Rampur, where the UP government's sports department runs a hockey academy for 30 'elite' boys. There's been no change to that academy and the story in hockey academies is much the same. Mayawati's government had announced cash rewards for Tushar Khandker and coach MP Singh, both part of the team that won the Asia Cup hockey championship in 2007. They've got no money yet.
So has no one been paid? In Punjab, some have. The rare few who've figured on the medal board in the 2006 World Shooting Championships, the 2006 Asian and Commonwealth Games, the Beijing Olympics and the 2007 hockey Asia Cup. They were felicitated in public functions, conducted, of course, under the full glare of the camera lights.
No Punjab government official was ready to comment on Badal's announcement to support the Indian hockey team. On the cash incentive front for past performances, a senior official said, “We have invited applications for cash awards for the year 2007-08. But we have no idea about the other pending cash awards for players.”
(With inputs from B. Shrikant in Mumbai)