Hockey might be the national game, but the action of Hockey India, which initially chose to give a monetary award of Rs. 25,000 to the players of the Indian team that won the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy at Ordos, China, was nothing short of a national shame.
The victory in China was a silver lining on the gloomy hockey horizon, clouded by a feud between the two administrative units — Indian Hockey Federation and Hockey India. It was a chance for the administrators to sink their differences and show that they really cared about the game and players.
But what Hockey India did was hand out a measly cheque, which was turned down by the Indian team, forcing Hockey India to SOS Sports Minister Ajay Maken. The Minister, as a face saving measure, announced Rs. 1.5 lakh as prize money.
The 24x7 coverage of this fiasco made others sit up and do their bit as well. The Punjab government announced Rs. 25 lakh to the team, while Karnataka offered Rs. 5 lakh each to the four players of the State in the team.
Monetary awards, of late, have been a ticklish issue in Indian sports. The expectations of sportspersons in the country have been fuelled by the mindboggling cash incentives that were showered on the Indian cricket team after the 2011 ICC World Cup victory. The Board of Control for Cricket in India gave Rs.1 crore to each player and the State governments followed suit with cash and site grants to them.
The Commonwealth and Asian Games medal winners too have received handsome rewards. One must acknowledge the desire of any sportsperson to seek accolades for his or her achievement. But are cash awards a ‘must'? Games such as cricket and tennis are now professional sports, carrying huge sums of prize money, and a player need not aspire for an extra reward from anyone. However, sportspersons who compete at amateur levels do need such incentives.
Unfortunately, a proper system, drawn by a sports federation to provide cash awards, is missing. Hockey India officials have defended their ‘gesture' by claiming that they are cash-strapped. If they were really in a fund's crunch, they need not have given the handout in the first place and cut such a sorry figure.