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'Only citizens can represent India'

December 26, 2008 17:27 IST

The government on Friday slammed the door on foreign-based players like Prakash Amritraj and Sunitha Rao and made it clear that only Indian citizens would represent the country in future international events.

"The Government has decided that, henceforth, players who are Indian citizens only can avail themselves of government assistance to represent the country in the national teams representing the country," an official statement said.

The decision leaves the tennis quartet of Prakash Amritraj, Sunitha Rao, Shikha and Neha Uberoi-- all US citizens -- at the crossroads even though Shikha had said on Thursday she is ready to surrender her American passport to continue playing for India.

Junior squash player Karm Kumar, who holds a British passport, recently challenged the Squash Racket Federation of India's (SRFI) decision to restrict the representation of the country only to Indian citizens in the Delhi High Court.

Asked by the High Court to formulate a uniform policy on the vexed issue, the government decided to consult the National Sports Federations and the Indian Olympic Association before deciding to restrict representation of the country only to the Indian citizens.

"The majority opinion has emerged in favour of restricting the representation of India in international sports events to players who are citizens of India. Some federations have not offered any comments on the matter and have indicated that they would adhere to the policy laid down by the Government in this regard," the statement read.

"...the entire matter has been carefully examined in Government and after taking into account all relevant considerations, including the general and specific rights conferred upon PIOs and OCIs as also other considerations such as the limited availability of resources to invest in building world class athletes and the long term interests of the country to emerge as a front-runner in the field of sports, the Government has taken the decision to provide assistance only to those players who have Indian Citizenship," the statement said.

"The IOA and all the recognised NSFs have been advised accordingly," it added.

The move already has ruffled some feathers even though the government is not really perturbed.

"The entire hue and cry is a storm in a tea cup," a Sports Ministry source said.

"The issue is being raised only by four tennis and a junior squash player, who live either in the US or UK and swear allegiance to either American or British flag and not the tri-colour.

"The Sports Ministry's duty is to promote Indian talent from the hinterlands who would swear allegiance to the Indian flag," he added.

He said the Ministry took the IOA in confidence and feedbacks were sought from all NSFs as well.

"We issued two communications on November 4 and then again on December 1 to IOA and all the federations. In the second, we also told them that in case we don't receive any communication from them, it would be presumed that they have no comments to offer.

"After obtaining support of the majority of the federations, we took the decision of restricting the representation of the country to the Indian citizens only," he said.

On whether IOA supported the move, he said, "IOA didn't send any feedback and as our last communication made it clear, no communication was perceived as they have nothing to offer."

The official said PIO (People of Indian Origin) and OIC (Overseas Citizens of India) are economic benefits given by the government of India and PIO does not get any right of dual citizenship.

"Even the Indian law or constitution does not provide for. Whenever the benefit of dual citizenship is given by the Government of India, the Ministry would look afresh into the new situation," he added.

According to him, players who are either PIO or OIC should prove their mettle by representing the country they are citizens of.

"Giving a slot to PIO or OIC player amounts to back door entry in a competition, in which he or she is not otherwise good enough to represent the country of which he or she is a citizen.

"The new policy will encourage the available talents within the country to enhance a sense of belonging and patriotism and will encourage many more to improve their performance to get the slot in the future to represent the country," he added.

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