Hours after Indian players rejected Hockey India’s paltry monetary offer, cash rewards trickled in for them today with the Sports Ministry announcing Rs 1.5 lakh each and Punjab government pitching in with Rs 25 lakh to the team for winning the Asian Champions Trophy.

The hockey team, which won the Asian Champions Trophy in China after beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final on Sunday, today rejected HI’s Rs 25,000 cash reward to each player, saying the paltry amount was not proper recognition of their achievement.

Sports Ministry Ajay Maken said the players will be given cash rewards which were due to them under the already existing scheme meant for those who win international tournaments.

“There is a government scheme which provides for cash awards to individual and team medal winners in international events. An individual winning a gold in Asian and Commonwealth Championships gets Rs 3 lakhs and an individual of the team gets Rs 1.5 lakh each. So under this scheme, all the 17 hockey players who won Asian Champions Trophy would get Rs 1.5 lakh each automatically,” Maken told reporters here.

“This scheme is not a new one, it is already in public domain. I don’t think it was proper to announce it as if the government is giving out this money in the form of charity but the players deserve it and it is their right to get this money,” he said.

“In a day or two cheques would be prepared and given to the individual hockey players,” the minister said.

Punjab government quickly made it a point to announce a cash reward of Rs 25 lakh to the team while congratulating the “national heroes for bringing the rare honour to a nation starved of sporting glory”.

“We are proud of our boys who toiled hard to win back glory in hockey, the traditional Indian sport. I am all the more proud as seven members of the team (including Rajpal Singh) belong to Punjab,” Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said in Chandigarh.

Maharashtra government also rewarded Rs 10 lakhs to Yuvraj Walmiki, who hails from the state, and offered him a job.

Maken, however, took a dig at the Punjab government for announcing the cash reward, describing it as “one upmanship“.

“Yes, I agree what all these state governments are doing by announcing hefty amounts for the team is a case of one upmanship. I am not going to judge whether state governments have actually translated their announcements into action but as far as we are concerned we have actually given the cash awards to the deserving players,” he said.

During a felicitation ceremony at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here last evening, the hockey players were offered the reward but they rejected it outright. The HI’s meagre amount also came in for sharp criticism from former players and coaches who said it was an insult to the players.

“We were offered Rs 25,000 each by HI Secretary General Narinder Batra as reward for winning the Asian Champions Trophy but we all refused to take it because it a very small reward considering our achievement,” senior player Gurbaz Singh told PTI.

Gurbaz said it was not possible to draw youngsters to the game with such rewards.

“We did not expect such a small amount as reward, considering the fact that hockey is our national game. If such things continue, there will be a day when there will be very few kids interested in playing hockey. They would rather opt for cricket or any other individual sport,” he added.

Another member of the victorious team said that such a meagre reward did not come as a surprise to him.

“These things are not new in Indian hockey. Now we are used to such step-motherly behaviour. This doesn’t make any difference,” the player said on condition of anonymity.

Criticising Hockey India for the unacceptable gesture, skipper of the victorious Indian team, Rajpal Singh said if the federation does not reward players properly then how would they expect youngsters to take up the sport in future.

“If there are no incentives how can we expect the younger generation to take the sport?” asked Rajpal.

Arjun Hallapa, who was ruled out of the Asian Champions Trophy due to an injury, expressed surprise at HI’s gesture, saying that players need to be rewarded very well.

“It is very surprising. After winning such a big event players should be rewarded very well,” Hallapa said.

HI’s paltry monetary offer also came under criticism from former players.

Former captain Pargat Singh supported the players on rejecting HI’s Rs 25,000 cash reward, saying that it was an insult to them to have offered a paltry amount.

“I think the whole thing has been mishandled. From my point of view, we should not give such small amount to the players, and that in a public function. It is, definitely, an insult to them,” Pargat, who is currently Punjab Sports Director, said.

“It is better not give any money at all rather than give such a paltry sum,” he said.

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