By Vishal Gulati
Chandigarh, Feb 11 (IANS) As the row over the visit of a kabbadi team, hailing mainly from Punjab, to Pakistan to participate in a tournament without the consent of the Indian government refuses to die down, questions are raised as to how a 60-member contingent was allowed to participate in the tournament.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was left shell-shocked after a kabaddi team from India landed in Pakistan via Wagah border to take part in the so called ‘World Championship’.
IOA chief Narinder Batra told IANS that the team, which reached Lahore on Saturday, was not an official squad from the country and hence they can’t use the word “India” under their banner, as they have not been approved by the Amateur Kabbadi Federation of India (AKFI).
Even the World Kabaddi Federation said that the ‘World Championship’ in Pakistan was “unauthorised” and “no institution will officially recognise the certificates” issued by it.
How did the team then land up in Pakistan at a time when ties between the two neighbouring countries are at their lowest in recent times?
Some experts here feel that most of the Indian players can play for those countries which have Indian origin players in majority.
However, the coach of the Indian kabbadi team has clarified that the players have gone to participate in the meet in their individual capacity, and they have nothing to do with the Punjab Kabaddi Association (PKA).
“Twelve players are required to form a kabaddi team. So how could a 60-member contingent obtain the permission to travel to Pakistan and take part in a tournament,” asked a former PKA functionary requesting anonymity.
According to the PKA functionary, it is the prize money of the tournament — Rs 10 million for winners and Rs 7.5 million for the runners-up — that has lured the Indian players.
Even Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has clarified that no Indian player was given permission to travel to Pakistan to participate in the event.
Coach Harpreet Singh Baba, who is accompanying the team, said the team got the invite to take part in the tournament at an individual level.
“Like earlier occasions, we came here this time to participate in the tournament. Since we all are here in an individual capacity, the approval of the Ministry of External Affairs or the Indian Olympic Association was not required,” Baba told IANS over phone.
He said that each player had applied for visa individually and procured it.
“We are all citizens of India and procured visa on the basis of taking part in the World Cup which will see the participation of 10 countries. And this is not the first time that we came here. In fact, we are frequently travelling to Britain and Canada in individual capacity to participate in different tournaments,” said a player, who didn’t wish to be identified.
“If we were of doubtful integrity, the Indian immigration authorities wouldn’t have allowed us. We told them that we are going to participate in the World Cup,” he added.
Asked how could they use jerseys with the word India inscribed on it, Baba said that since it was a World Cup, the organisers named the team India.
However, such claims don’t seem to hold much ground since the world kabaddi body has categorically stated that the said tournament — a ‘World Cup’ — was unauthorised.
“Also if there was any objection from the Ministry of External Affairs or the Sports Ministry, they should have barred us from coming here,” Baba added.
On his part, PKA Vice President Tejinder Singh Middukhera said that the Pakistan Kabaddi Federation has organised the tournament to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
“The Pakistan Kabaddi Federation had invited the players individually for participation. We have not issued any official letter to any player. Since they all went there in their individual capacity, and not representing the country, the question of seeking permission doesn’t arise,” Middukhera said.
He said as per his knowledge, the host federation is recognised by the Pakistan government.
However, there seem to be more questions than answers over the Indian contingent’s Pakistan trip.