Sports ministry may wink at Gill's passport policy

New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) The sports ministry may have no objection to non-Indian-passport-holders turning out for the country in international sports events provided the rules of the international federations permit them.

The government appears to be willing to liberalise its rigid 2009 policy of not allowing non-Indian-passport-holders from playing under the national flag.

Tennis player Prakash Amritraj, who is an American citizen by birth, is likely to be the first beneficiary of the new thinking in the sports ministry and he can now hope to play for India again in Davis Cup after four years.

The government on its part Wednesday took the official line of not allowing non-Indian-passport-holders to represent the country, though Pradeep Kumar Deb, secretary, Department of Sports, told IANS that "it is for the AITA to decide on Prakash's eligibility if the International Tennis Federation (ITF) rules permit his inclusion."

The thinking in the ministry apparently is that the 2009 government fiat, when M.S. Gill was the sports minister, permitting only Indian citizens to represent the country was not in sync with the current global sports scenario.

The sports ministry, however, may not amend the rule for fear of opposition from certain political quarters, but will give the National Sports Federations (NSFs) the choice of playing non-Indian-passport-holders if the rules of their international bodies permit.

"The 2009 circular is not in tune with the changing trends in world of sport. But we are not going to tinker with the rule as that might invite the Opposition backlash. It is up to the National Sports Federations (NSFs) to decide. We have an open mind, though the ministry will not sponsor the training costs of sportspersons who don't have Indian passports," a top official, unwilling to be named, told IANS.

Indian tennis, especially the women's Fed Cup team, was badly hit by the Dec 2009 circular.

The team lost Sunitha Rao, who played for India from 2007-08 and Shikha Uberoi (2005-08) as they, like Prakash, were US citizens of Indian origin.

Prakash, son of the legendary Vijay Amritraj, represented India in the Davis Cup from 2003 to 2008.

Deb, however, clarified that AITA could select Prakash for the Davis Cup tie against Korea slated for Feb 1-3 in the national capital if he fulfils its selection criteria, but the ministry would not bear the expenses of his training since he is not an Indian national.

"If AITA thinks he qualifies for selection we have no problems, but we will not bear the training costs of any foreign national" Deb told IANS.

Prakash's name came into the reckoning after eight rebel players submitted a list of demands to the AITA and threatened to skip the Davis Cup tie if they were not met.

Deb said it was "ridiculous" for the AITA to ask the sport ministry to stop funding all the rebel players.

"I think it is ridiculous to ask us to stop funding the rebel players if the AITA has a problem with them. We have asked both the sides to rise above their internal politics and settle the issue in the national interest," Deb added.

The AITA has set Jan 11 as the deadline for the eight rebels to make themselves available for the Korea tie before its selectors sit down to pick the squad.

"Some of the so-called rebels have already made themselves available for the tie, but we don't want to reveal their names because they will come under pressure from others," AITA chief executive Hiranmoy Chatterjee told IANS.

Chatterjee said the AITA has informed the players of the demands it could concede and it is now for the players to decide whether to turn out or not.

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