India will finally take part in the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament after a peeved Hockey India initially threatened to withdraw from the event over government's refusal's to fund travel expenses but reversed its decision following a quick resolution of the issue.
In what appeared to be a pressure tactic, Hockey India surprisingly announced withdrawal from the tournament through an official press release, citing Sports Authority of India's refusal to bear the team's air travel expenses.
However, after the news broke out, the Sports Ministry said that it has directed SAI to allocate the required funds to meet the air ticket expenses of the team considering the prestige attached to the tournament.
The Sports Ministry's directive to SAI paved the way for India's participation, ending the withdrawal drama over ticket expenditure which would have cost approximately 6 to 7 lakhs for a 22-member squad.
Soon after Hockey India decided to pull out of the event to be held in Ipoh, Malaysia, from March 9-17, Sports Secretary P K Deb stepped in to resolve the issue.
When contacted, Hockey India Secretary General Narinder Batra said that the team will now take part in the event.
"The Indian team will take part in the event. It will leave on March 3. We will deal directly with the Sports Ministry and resolve all the issues", Batra said.
"The Sports Ministry has asked SAI to release the funds. We stepped in because Azlan Shah is a very important tournament and we don't want to deprive our players a chance to participate in such a prestigious tournament," Sports Secretary P K Deb said.
"India have always figured in the previous editions of the tournament and the Sports Ministry made the exception this time keeping in mind the players' interest," he added.
Deb, however, asked Hockey India to exercise fiscal restrain in future.
"One thing I would like to make it clear is that HI needs to be more cautious and disciplined in spending money which has been allocated to them by SAI", Deb said.
"The allocation for the year was 5.94 crore and it (HI) spent 11.27 crore, more than double the allocation. This allocation of 5.94 crore was decided after discussion with HI.
So at some point of time they need to be told to become more careful while spending the money", he said.
"SAI must have told them about this spending of money. This time we have made the exception but not always," Deb said.
Earlier in the day, HI decided to withdraw from the tournament, claiming that SAI had refused to fund the team's air travel for the event.
"Hockey India has been forced to withdraw the participation of its Senior National Men team from the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament to be played at Ipoh in Malaysia from 9-17 March 2013," HI said in a statement.
"In the sanction given by Sports Authority of India to Hockey India regarding the men's team participation, it is mentioned that the team will play this tournament at no cost to government.
HI said the only obligation to the government for this tour was to cover airfare cost of the team but in the sanction given by SAI, it was clearly mentioned that government will not cover any cost. The government had, on earlier occasions, borne the air travel expenses.
India, who won the Azlan Shah Cup five times (1985, 1991, 1995, 2009, 2010), were the bronze medallist in the last edition of the tournament.
Keeping in mind the FIH Junior World Cup, to be held in the country later this year, India had opted to field a young, new-look squad under Danish Mujataba for this year's Azlan Shah Cup.
Apart from India, the other participating nations in the tournament are arch-rivals Pakistan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and hosts Malaysia.