A last-minute intervention by the Secretary, Union Sports Ministry, helped avoid India’s pull-out from the Azlan Shah hockey tournament on Tuesday.

Hockey India had announced the withdrawal of the team from the tournament to be played in Ipoh, Malaysia, from March 9 to 17 because of lack of funding by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) but by late afternoon on Tuesday, the government intervened to sort things out.

After SAI granted HI clearance at “no cost to government”, the latter announced that it was pulling out of the tournament but a meeting between SAI Director-General Gopal Krishna and Union Sports Secretary P.K. Deb helped resolve the issue.

The government would bear the expenses towards air fare, baggage and insurance, leaving the rest of the expenditure for HI to handle, as had been proposed earlier.

‘Retaliatory’ gesture

In his reaction initially to SAI clearing the team without even paying for the air fare, Batra had alleged that it was a “retaliatory” gesture by SAI since he had filed a police complaint against the security officer at the National Stadium on Sunday last, leading to the arrest of the security officer. He was later released on bail.

A SAI official rebutted Batra’s accusation and stated that SAI’s decision initially had nothing to do with the incident and it was based on what had been decided at the “annual calendar and training and competition” meeting held on October 5 last.

The official said that the Azlan Shah tournament was never part of the funding agreed upon at that meeting, though Batra had a different story to tell and challenged SAI to produce the minutes of the meeting.

Batra said that the government had always borne air fare expenses and this time also SAI was requested to foot the bill.

Batra said out of the total expenditure of around Rs. 30-35 lakh needed to field the team in the Ipoh tournament, SAI was supposed to bear only the air fare that would come to about Rs. 12-15 lakh.

The SAI official, however, said that its component of the expenditure would come to around Rs. 25 lakh.

SAI had apparently scaled down the allocation for hockey following its budget having overshot the initially-approved figure, leaving it with a total of Rs. 11.77 crore in the current financial year.

HI was told to manage its entire programme within that allocation.

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