New Delhi: Sports Minister Ajay Maken Wednesday announced a cash reward of Rs.1.5 lakh to each member of the national hockey team, who earlier rejected a paltry Rs.25,000 reward the cash-strapped Hockey India (HI) offered for winning the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in Ordos, China.
Maken said the team did the right thing by rejecting HI's pittance. The players are suffering because of the internal problems of hockey administration what with HI and the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) squabbling about power sharing, he added.
HI secretary general Narinder Batra said the federation could afford to give out only Rs.25,000 in reward to each member of the Indian team that won the men's Asian Champions Trophy in China.
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At a hurriedly called press conference, Maken said: "The players have done the right thing by rejecting the cash award offered to them by HI. The federation should have consulted me before announcing the award. The players are eligible for a cash award of Rs.1.5 lakh each under the government scheme."
Asked why did he announce the government scheme only a day after he felicitated the team, Maken said: "The scheme was already there in public domain and I thought it was not required to make it public again."
"This is not a pittance, it is what they deserve," Maken said about the cash award the government was offering now. "I spoke to HI secretary general Narendra Batra and told him if he wanted to reward the players, we could have done it together so that the players got Rs.1.75 lakh each."
Maken also said the support staff and the coach would get Rs.75,000 each.
"We have spent Rs.7.81 crore on the preparation of the team for various events. Of this amount, Rs.5.97 crore was spent on national coaching camps, Rs.1.75 crore on foreign exposure and Rs.8.5 lakh on foreign experts. We are also paying $10,000 as salary to coach (Michael Nobbs), for the first time in any sport," he said.
There was more award in store as the Punjab government also announced Rs.25 lakh for the team. The Maharashtra government also announced a cash award of Rs.10 lakh and a permanent job for Yuvraj Walmiki, a key player in the team who hails from that state.
Don't you think it is an insult to our hockey players?
But all this did not go down well with Maken, who termed it as a one-upmanship.
Batra admitted that the amount offered by the federation was paltry, but that was the "best" HI could offer.
"We have to operate within limited resources. It is unfortunate that we can only give this much but that was the budget available with us. It should be taken as a blessing rather than looking down upon it. The federation cannot give more than this amount," Batra said.
Batra said he will be talking to the entire team to explain the federation's point of view.
"I would love to get them a crore each, but keeping the current financial situation (of HI) it is not possible. I will be talking to the entire team on the issue and I am sure they will understand our limitations."
Skipper Rajpal Singh said the sport would not attract youngsters if the players are not rewarded adequately. Rejecting the HI reward, he said his team was disappointed by the hollow claims made by Maken to revive the sport in the country.
"The federation has failed to meet our expectations. This is not the way to treat the national players. The money should be better not just for the motivation of the current crop of players, but also for the future generations who would like to take up the national sport," Rajpal said.
Another senior player, Gurbaz Singh said players have outrightly rejected the cash award as it was "a pittance".
"We refused to accept Rs.25,000 because it is a very small reward considering our achievement," he said.
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Gurbaz said such awards will not encourage the players.
"We did not expect such a small amount, considering the fact that hockey is our national game. If such things continue, there will be a day when there will be very few youngsters interested in playing hockey. They would rather opt for cricket or any other individual sport," he said.
India won the Asian Champions Trophy by defeating arch-rivals Pakistan 4-2 in a shootout in the final.