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Money Game In Indian Sport

Sport and money have come to be inextricably linked in these permissive times. While the passing of the amateur era might have helped lend a more competitive edge to most sports, the resulting domination of Mammon has certainly diminished the spirit of gamesmanship.

Both individual and team sports are now more and more driven by match fees, sponsorship and monetary awards for winning, with the result that the sheer joy and excitement of participating no longer counts for much with most players.

The crass commercialisation of sport was brought home recently to most Indians when the national hockey team went on strike, refusing to train ahead of next month’s World Cup, scheduled to be held in New Delhi.

In January, the hockey probables gathered in Pune, Maharashtra, to attend the coaching camp. Soon they served notice on Hockey India, the administrative body of the game, making it clear that they would not train unless they were paid the backlog of their fees for 2009 and assured of higher compensation for the current year.

Officials controlling Hockey India were flummoxed. Initially, they took the ultimatum lightly, pleading that donning national colours was a bigger honour than a few lakhs of rupees.

When the players insisted on boycotting the coaching camp and thus jeopardising India’s participation in the World Cup, hockey managers accused the strikers of blackmail and holding the country to ransom.

Also, they threatened to field Team-B in the World Cup. As the stand-off continued, members of the junior team made it clear that they would not play for India to spite the national players.

The polemics between the players and Hockey India officials lasted a full week, with the latter haggling with the former on the quantum of compensation and payment of arrears for 2009.

Players were offered US$550 for a tournament and $20 daily allowance during match tours.

This was unacceptable to the striking players. They insisted on an annual contract payment of nearly $10,000 to every national player and a graded system of fees for national, state and junior players.

With the unprecedented ‘hockey strike’ making national headlines, politicians soon joined the fray.

Sports minister M.S. Gill was forced on the back foot, neither able to produce the sought-for funds nor able to persuade the striking players to go back to work.

The stalemate ended after a full week when the president of the Indian Olympic Association Suresh Kalmadi intervened.

Armed with the assurance from the business group Sahara India, the official sponsor of both India’s hockey and cricket teams, which promised a little over $200,000 within the next week to pay the players, Kalmadi managed to persuade the strikers to give up the protest.

The entire amount to be paid by the sponsors would now go to the men’s hockey team—and not a dime would be paid from this amount to the women’s and juniors’ team, a development sure to create its own problems soon.

The ugly tussle had once again focused on the vested interests that had taken over sports in the country. Barring an honourable exception or two, various bodies administering the sport have become hotbeds of corruption and nepotism.

With the membership of most associations a closed-door affair, vested interests and power brokers continue to perpetuate themselves in positions of power.

For instance, Kalmadi was first elected the president of the Indian Olympic Association over two decades ago and to this day, he continues to rule the roost.

Ditto for other sports bodies, including cricket, where key members take turns occupying organisational positions, though they do go through the motions of elections.

Officials rather than players get priority in the current scheme of things in various sporting bodies. Indeed, it is said that if you want to see the world, become an official of a sporting body.

Not long ago, Indian hockey had appointed a gofer of a senior official as an assistant manager who had not seen a hockey stick all through his life. He travelled all over the world with the national team, and often without it, to attend conferences of the International Hockey Federation.

The rot in Indian hockey in particular, and in Indian sport in general, was revealed in all its sordidness last year when a television channel conducted a sting operation focusing on corruption in team selection.

The grainy television footage showed how a senior official of the then Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) was demanding money for selecting players for the national team.

The resulting furore led to the disbanding of the IHF. An ad hoc Hockey India constituted in place of IHF failed in ordering the affairs of the national game, as became abundantly clear from the recent players’ strike.

Though, barring cricket, in no other sport is India a major player, its fall from international hockey is particularly galling.

Once the undisputed world champions with eight Olympic gold medals under its belt, Indian hockey shamed every Indian when the national team failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ranked 12th in world hockey, there is little or no public support for the game. Attendance, even at international matches, is very poor, with sponsors not finding it attractive to shell out big bucks for Indian hockey as a result.

In sharp contrast to the cash-rich cricketers, hockey players do not even earn a pittance. But then cricket is the only mass sport, having been embraced by satellite television and business houses with a vengeance after India won the World Cup back in 1983.

Failure of the Indian government to support hockey and other games such as football at the school and university level further compounded the problem. Or maybe sportsmen believe that where there is no money, there is no need to excel.

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