Admittedly ''shocked'' at the Sports Ministry's decision to prune the contingent for the Doha Asian Games, India Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi on Wednesday struck a defiant note and asserted that IOA would foot the bill if the government refuses to do so.
Earlier, in a bid to exclude the also-rans from the contingent, the Sports Ministry cut down the number of disciplines to 24, out of the 32 recommended by the IOA.
Expressing shock at the government's decision, Kalmadi said, "We have requested the government to include more disciplines for the Doha Asian Games as it is of utmost importance that our sportspersons get a lot of international exposure before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi."
The Sports Ministry cut down the squad to 387 from the original 589 proposed by the IOA, striking down football, basketball, handball, sepak takraw, triathlon, ten-pin bowling, rugby sevens and fencing teams.
Interestingly, the football team is already on its way to Doha.
Taking a dig at the ministry, Kalmadi said, "In case the government does not fund the sportspersons belonging to the axed disciplines, like football and rugby, we will pay for them."
The IOA president also refuted allegations that accommodation would have been a serious problem for a larger contingent.
"India has been provided 680 beds for its contingent, in spite of IOA's request for only 580 beds, but the government has shockingly axed it down to 387,'' Kalmadi said.
The government pays the airfare for athletes it clears.
Kalmadi also refused to buy the theory that the Sports Ministry's move was meant to avoid embarrassment by the players who have no realistic chances of doing well in the Games.
''Last time we had won a medal in Taekwondo, but this time the Ministry was reluctant to include the discipline," he reasoned.
Meanwhile, Kalmadi also revealed that women's hockey team captain Jyoti Kullu would lead the Indian contingent as the flag-bearer in Doha.
''Jyoti is a tribal girl and they have made rich contribution to Indian sports. This is a gesture aimed at acknowledging their contribution,'' he explained.
India won 11 gold medals to finish seventh in the 2002 Asian Games, seven coming from track and field.