New Delhi: It could be the outrage of insulted champions. Or then Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's neat political point. By Wednesday evening, the Centre was in full damage control mode, assuring the national hockey team that each player would in fact get Rs 1.5 lakh for winning the Asian Champions Trophy.
Sports Minister Ajay Maken said this was de rigueur - that the champs would have got this money anyway under a government rewards scheme. That the Centre just did not see reason to make a song and dance about the cash award since it was public knowledge anyway. He was also at pains to point out that the paltry sum of Rs 25,000 that was offered to the players last evening was Hockey India's doing. Not the Centre's.
"Rd 25000 cash award was not announced by Govt but by the Hockey India. Govt. spends all the money on training, coaching & foreign exposure," Mr Maken posted on his Twitter account.
"Govt. spent 7.81cr on Hockey Team in last 6 months alone! 5.97cr- National Coaching camps,1.75cr Foreign Visits,8.75 lakh on foreign experts," he tweeted two hours later.
The players had rejected Hockey India's cash reward outright as being too small for their achievement: The team has just returned home after defeating Pakistan to lift the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy held in China.
Mr Maken backed players' decision to refuse the amount. "Players were right in refusing the money. It was an insult to the players," he said at the press conference.
Mr Maken's clarification came close on the heels of the Punjab government's announcement that it would give an award of Rs. 25 lakh to team. Mr Badal, while announcing the Shiromani Akali Dal government's more generous cash prize, also asked the UPA government at the Centre to apologise to the members of the hockey team for them being offered so paltry a sum.
The players were given the Hockey India (HI) cash reward at a felicitation ceremony held at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Tuesday evening. They rejected it right there.
"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 is a very small reward considering our achievement," PTI quoted senior player Gurbaz Singh as saying.
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 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 behavior. This doesn't make any difference," the player said on condition of anonymity.
(With inputs from PTI)