Underlining the sorry state of sports administration in the country, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) sent a 46-year-old police officer and a 49-year-old former referee to represent India at an international tournament in Iceland, on the recommendations of the Punjab Badminton Association (PBA).
Tarn Taran senior superintendent of police Manmohan Sharma and the ex-referee, Apinder Sabharwal, were handed the coveted India colours without any trial, and had actually gone for a holiday, admits PBA general secretary Rajinder Kalsi in a sting operation by English TV news channel Times Now.
Kalsi, a leading industrialist who recommended the duo, reduces it to a routine matter of “shauq” (desire) to play abroad. PBA president A Venu Prasad, a senior IAS officer, simply disowned the matter when contacted by HT, and shifted the onus to Kalsi, a leading industrialist who has held the PBA post for the past three decades despite having no background in badminton.
Not only did the two overage ‘players’ get visa clearance from sportspersons’ quota, but they did not even turn up for any match, giving walkovers to opponents and earning a bad name for the country.
A third player sent for the tournament — where generally budding players are sent to improve their rankings — was 22-year-old Abhishek Sharma. Having prize money of $50,000, it was held between January 22 and 25 in Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik.
In the sting video, Kalsi is seen purportedly admitting that the two men were sent to Iceland on his recommendation.
And, seemingly justifying the ‘favour’, he adds: “Tell me, Iceland vi koi country hai (Is Iceland even a country worth the while)?”
He claims that he didn’t encroach upon the rights of any players by recommending the duo: “Kai vaar shauq hunda hai ji, ke asi vi bahar ja ke khed aaiye (Sometimes it is just about the desire to go abroad and play).”
Even as the sting prompted the Union sports minister to ask for an explanation from the BAI, no action has been taken against the ‘players’ or the PBA so far. In the case of the SSP, in particular, the episode exposes how clout can be used to improve one’s resume for promotions in service.
SSP Sharma, a Punjab Police Service (PPS) officer, told HT that he had been “selected” for the tournament. “But when I got to know that I cannot participate because of being overage, I decided to withdraw. I did visit Iceland anyway, since my tickets were already booked.”
He also claimed to be a six-time badminton champion at the National Police Games, but senior badminton players said those medals were no merit to participate in an open international tourney.
PBA president Prasad, when contacted, denied any information on the issue, and said, “All such matters are dealt with by general secretary Rajinder Kalsi. I will ask him. If there is any irregularity, action would be initiated.” Kalsi did not take repeated calls made by HT.
A senior player from Punjab said merit being overlooked was common.
“Representing India is a big honour, a dream. Sending such people as Team India is an insult. It only shows that by spending some money and exercising power, you can represent India. Merit means nothing!” said Dheeraj Sharma, a former state champion.