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Top contenders get zilch

India’s leading Grand Slam winner Leander Paes has got zilch, the other veteran player Mahesh Bhupathi has got all of Rs 27,000 and Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman — our main singles players — have got nothing. Sukhwant Basra reports. See graphic

sports Updated: Aug 06, 2010 00:27 IST
Sukhwant Basra

Three years ago, the Union Cabinet sanctioned an amount of Rs 21 crore to help prepare India's tennis challenge in the Commonwealth Games.

Out of this amount, India’s leading Grand Slam winner Leander Paes has got zilch, the other veteran player Mahesh Bhupathi has got all of Rs 27,000 and Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman — our main singles players — have got nothing.

A total of 5.21 crore has been paid out by the Sports Ministry so far and this money has largely gone towards salaries of some coaches and other personnel far removed from the top players.

“I have been submitting my plane tickets, hotel bills and other expense details to the AITA (All India Tennis Association for years). There is just no money flowing back,” says Bhupathi. “I have now got a mail to submit last

year's Wimbledon bills again. I am ignoring it for I already sent them before.” Bhupathi has actually got one of his employees looking after all the correspondence required to claim his money.

“I have got no money at all from this scheme and I am not wasting my time thinking about it anymore,” says Paes.

Meanwhile the AITA and the Sports Ministry are busy playing ping-pong. The federation's secretary, Anil Khanna, says, “We are concerned that our elite players have not got the support money they deserve. The ones who will get us medals are the ones who need to benefit from this scheme.”

Rahul Bhatnagar of the Sports Ministry has his own take: “We have not got a single bill pending with us. We have been telling AITA again and again that they have to submit the basic documents before government money can be released, while they want us to give lump sums without any papers.”

The Ministry prefers that tickets be booked through Balmer Lawrie and Co - the government travel agency. Tennis players hop around the globe and their precise itinerary depends upon how long they last in a tournament. They can't book tickets in advance. The bureaucrats want hotel and food bills before sanctioning the allotted $100 to 125 allowance for a total of 75 days of international competition that rules allow for. Our tennis players are abroad competing for over 200 days and wonder why they can't be reimbursed even for their coaching bills which are the easiest to process.

“If the top four men players and Sania Mirza do not benefit under present rules, it's only correct that the Ministry should adjust its rules keeping in mind the needs of tennis,” asserts Khanna.

“There are fundamental financial rules in dealing with government money. They can't be changed. AITA has to be more active in this and help its players,” rebuts Bhatnagar.

“For years I have been hearing the Ministry say that tennis players are rich and don't need money. They can't be expected to accommodate our needs. Of course, when they need medals, they always come looking for us,” says Bhupathi.

There is obviously a hole between the players submitting their bills, the AITA processing them and the Ministry reimbursing.

Everybody is busy playing file-file and somewhere the rightful money of the players is draining down that hole.